OCS Logo Controversy, Legalization and Crown Branding

canadian-marijuana-flag Happy Legalization Canada! canadian-marijuana-flag

Let’s talk about the OCS.ca Logo and all of the debate around the value and strategy the government took to create it.

If you were paying attention to major news statements in March of this year you would have seen headlines such as “People can’t believe how much the LCBO paid for its cannabis store logo” (Blogto, Mar 12, 2018). These headlines were noting the dissatisfaction of Canadians with the budget used to create the relatively basic logo (https://ocs.ca, pictured below). Designers who work with Logos, UI, graphics etc have seen many companies spend exuberant amounts of money to get logos which could be simply a shape, small bunch of letters of a mix of the two. The budget for this logo was $650,000 CAD. Many bloggers, Twitter users, and news outlets voiced the opinion that the logo looked incredibly simple, which must equal cheap, and the idea that this budget was exuberant given how much could be made with legal cannabis.

ocs logo splash

My personal opinion on the logo is that the budget fits the level of care needed for a project as such, but the logo did miss out on a way to stand out even more. The branding team behind this logo and project was Leo Burnett, a design firm known across the world. I believe the amount of time, consulting, research and paid wages it would take to do a large branding project for such a massive initiative justifies the $650,000 price tag. I think the logo serves nicely as a balance between a diversified countries interests and beliefs, where cannabis themes could be seen as ‘distasteful’ and a simple vector logo could have missed brand recognition from a large portion of the population. The one thing I wish was done differently is instead of having “OCS” written inside of a circle, the “O” could have replaced the circle, with “CS” for “cannabis store” could have been written inside. I hope the idea was at least considered, but for now, the logo represents a statement from across Canada to decriminalize and control a drug which is gaining popularity to the levels of alcohol or above in some areas.

There definitely could have been cheaper solutions from small companies, startups, and individual contractors but there are no grantees these logos would have been appropriate for a national launch and the international attention it has generated. Many Canadians took to Twitter to voice their wishes that the government used budget sources such as Fiverr to have the logo prototype and release. Services such as Fiverr do offer great deals for startups and small businesses with a limited political connection, research and testing is generally not addressed by these individuals and firms, and given that Canada is the First G7 country to legalize recreational marijuana, this research could be more valuable than the physical design.

As orders have started to ship to Canadians, we are starting to see the real problem with this rollout was the logistics side more than branding. The three biggest problems as so far fall into the categories of Limited Supply, Poor Packaging, & Questionable Quality Marijuana. Anyone that has or is currently visiting the http://www.ocs.ca website can clearly see this message:


Should still be visible today…….

We are used to tech companies who underestimate demand or purposely cause a supply shortage on the first release of a product to facilitate news articles about how fast they sold out, but for a crown corporation to have been this unprepared has left many Canadians returning to illegal dispensaries and dealers. This defeats the purpose of taxing and regulating the drug if the crown solutions cannot satisfy demand. Of course, most startups know the pains of matching demand with supply and we should all keep in mind that this is a learning process which should be smoothed out over time.

Packaging a drug or product with an intense smell profile is crucial when handling large amounts of orders through facilities which handle other consumer orders on top of marijuana packages. Initially, when seeing the packaging I was taken back by how generic the packaging between different brands and products was. The only room for design seems to be the logo of the producing company itself. This is a smart move for consumers who do not have experience with marijuana products as it puts all products at an equal level of understanding and accessibility, yet it feels like there is a lack of soul compared to the amazing branding of cannabis products throughout the world. The real issue with packaging as we are starting to see is smell-proofing. For those involved with the marijuana industry, smell-proofing is crucial for both logistics and allowing consumers to have the product in their home without overpowering consumers with scents. Articles such as this article by NARCITY outline that Canada Post, who even though contracted by the federal government to handle these orders, has stopped many orders based on “Strong Odor” which has always been a flag in their logistics system. This shows the packaging strategy was not tested properly given that other non-legal Mail Order Marijuana companies have taken care of this problem for years. Companies such as www.mmjdirect.ca have individual shrink-wrapped packages for each product, which are combined into a tape-sealed box and again shrink-wrapped before entering a standard Canada Post envelope. The company has had no similar complaints made public and has been in operation for 2+ years.

The last and arguably most important issue with this system being the low-quality plant shipped to many first customers of OCS.ca resulting in many Reddit and blog testimonials of the low value of product versus what was expected on the ordering website. Even if logistics, legal and branding concerns were not present, this would be enough for many consumers to turn to black market solutions which guarantee higher quality, and higher quality-per-dollar cannabis. There are varying levels of THC & CBD content which warrants a higher or lower price, but many connoisseurs see bud quality, moisture, and growth as equally important to overall active ingredient content.

The next point I would like to discuss is how certain news sources presented highly biased views on the aforementioned budget. These articles did not serve to give Canadians the information to make their own decision but framed the endeavor as simply a waste of money, which had many users agreeing before seeing arguments from branding professionals. Many branding professionals voiced support for the budget over twitter with messages about understanding why the cost was so high and that the logo looked more refined than it could have from cheaper solutions. Without getting too into how present this bias is throughout all media, I believe the OCS Logo controversy shows how diverse Canada is, as well as how making information public without first consulting with industry experts can create an information gap based which leads to personal opinions based on a limited source of opinions and contested facts.


Let me know what you think, was this logo worth the $650,000 invested in R&D? Or could you have done better given the right specs sheet? Did you see these articles, and did you think they were fair or biased? Have you tried ordering from OCS or are you waiting for the system to get refined?

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