The Logo Diaries: Ontario Cannabis Store

March 19, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

Last week, the Ontario government announced the name, logo and branding for the province’s cannabis agency.

“The name is designed to convey a safe, simple and approachable environment for consumers, and agency employees, in a clear and easily understood manner. We are confident the brand name and logo will help ensure Ontarians are able to safely and easily identify Ontario Cannabis Stores as the sole legal retailer of non-medical cannabis in Ontario.” 

Unfortunately, not everyone agreed. In fact, lines were drawn and they were stark. One could even say the Internet remains divided over the “simple” branding.

Some felt it was rather empty.

Others took aim at those behind it.

There were a few who, er, embellished it a bit.

Some even questioned if it ever made it out of “draft” phase.

But there were also many who supported it and called critics out for blowing things out of proportion.  

To add to the controversy, the branding work (including “development of the overall brand strategy, brand guidelines, and, eventually, the development of the logo and brand name” according to The Toronto Star) – handled by agency Leo Burnett – had a hefty $650,000 price tag. Once again, we didn’t see the brief but there are truthfully two ways to look at this.

  1. Is the depth (or lack thereof depending on who you ask) of that logo worth six figures? The logo alone may not have cost that, but out of all the work the logo is the first thing people are going to make an association to, not the brand guidelines. Not to mention, who’s paying for that? During an election year, it puts the current government in a potentially sticky situation over how money is being spent.

  2. Kudos to Leo Burnett for not pricing on time it takes to build something, but rather for the value it will derive in the long term. After all, this is the province and we’re sure OCS isn’t going to be rebranding any time soon.

Consequently, the Internet became a messy place.

This is what captured our minutes. Here’s why:

Logo design matters.

We’re not going to be the judge and jury for OCS or the provincial government. We’re not the client and the government has plenty of its own critics without us chiming in.

But it’s important to remember something really key when it comes to creating a brand and developing that equity and awareness.

“Branding isn’t just about the logo anymore. It’s every single touchpoint you experience from the brand.”

Full disclosure, this is coming Lionel Wong, Creative Director and Partner at Church+State, which is The Tite Report’s parent agency.

When it comes to straight up logo design however, he has a point. Or eight. Good logos should be:

  • Ownable – not just a buzzword. It’s important that it doesn’t blend into all the other noise out there.

  • Memorable – another self-explanatory aspect. People have small attention spans and shiny object syndrome.

  • Design fundamentals (this is table stakes) – composition, colours, white space, typography, etc. All of this should work together to create something that’s aesthetically appealing to the eye. (Duh).

  • Should communicate tonality and feel of your brand – what’s your brand about? If it were a person, how would it talk? What vibe are you giving off to prospective and returning customers?

  • Scalable – the logo has to be able to exist in several different alt versions for different shapes and spaces, eg: main logo vs. icon.

  • Should work within a bigger design system: a logo won’t be the only touchpoint that people interact with when it comes to your brand. But it should definitely flow with all the other bits.

  • Finesse – check your spacing, ligatures, x-heights. AKA measure twice, cut once kind of thinking. This is also another opportunity to make a logo truly ownable.

  • Clever – when possible, use iconography or white space to give a nod to the name or industry. In layman’s terms, create something that makes people go, “huh, that’s smart.”

So, what’s the point to all of this? That logo design is a huge process. It has a lot of moving parts that are about so much more than the final high-res jpeg or png that gets exported.

Before a brand can even get to the elements above, it has to look inward. And no, this isn’t some sort of cheesy process that has to deal with the alignment of planets.

Rather, a brand needs to understand, identify and act on its values. It must have a clear understanding of the things it does and doesn’t stand for. It should clearly outline its offering. A brand also needs to know its audience on a bigger level than the funnel and make its audiences feel something when they interact with the brand in question.

This stuff may sound obvious or self-explanatory, but it’s often these fundamentals that can get lost over years of growth, adjustments and tweaks. Growth is good, but not when the foundation starts showing cracks.

Only once a brand can easily and clearly articulate all these things can it even consider a logo design or redesign. Since the logo is one of the most outward facing things a brand can put out there, it can get rushed to the forefront before the proper legwork is done.

Remember, the logo is just one of the touchpoints that audiences will come into contact with. But, the logo can also act as an anchor that pulls all those different touchpoints together.

All in all, it’s a very delicate balance.

So, to link this back to OCS, all of this points to two things:

Firstly, that logo design is just one variable in a massively long equation.

However secondly, that the logo is also one of the first things people associate with a brand because it’s front and centre. This means it has a big hand to play in determining what legacy a brand has to offer.

Also, to provide some #agencylife realness, every agency is going to do things differently. Every person, team and company has its own creative process. There are certainly good tenets of design, but there are also about 9873294872394 methods to employ when getting there.

Share your thoughts on the new logo design @TheTiteReport.

We’d also like to give out a special mention to the news publications covering this story and their creativity with headline writing. CBC, we’re looking at you.

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?


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