cannabis brands with Ian Rapsey

by AHLOT

Ian is the leading and most sought after branding expert in the cannabis industry. He designed and implemented the brand development strategies for Canopy Growth (formerly Tweed Marijuana), positioning the brand as the undisputed leader in its market. He was also instrumental in rebranding Canopy Growth’s acquisition Bedrocan, a joint venture with the largest producer of cannabis in the Netherlands. Every day, thousands of cannabis patients around the world experience Ian’s convivial brands and creativity.

As Creative Director of Nesta, Ian’s primary focus is to dovetail the strategic and the creative goals, building industry leading brands for our products and partners. We're excited to share his thoughts on branding.

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Tell us your story and how you entered the cannabis industry.

My story is probably a little robust to fit into this window, but in a nutshell, I’ve been a designer for the last 20 years and have had the great honour of working alongside and  learning from real thought, creative and business leaders, along the way. This experience coupled with the way my brain seems to work, has been a pretty good recipe for a very rewarding career. 

As for how I got involved in the cannabis industry, I give full credit to Chuck Rifici, Co-founder of Tweed Inc. Chuck had a vision for a company and engaged me to articulate the creative and brand strategy for it; He trusted me to do my job and gave me the runway to fully immerse, execute and push the brand as far as we could. The next three years were a bit of a blur... but apparently we did something right. 

As part of the creative community, I think it’s important to continually be engaged and improving –  you always strive to do better than your last job or project. So, now I get to leverage the success  and knowledge gained from creating the Tweed brand, and do it all over again with Feather Company, Wikileaf and all the other good things we’ve got going on at Nesta.

 

What ails the cannabis industry now that a branding could solve - and how?

I’m not convinced that anything ails the industry. It’s a new industry and everyone is in a mad-dash to create things – all types of things – but cream always rises to the top. There’s a misconception that branding or re-branding can fix everything. Branding may be able to help showcase the values or tone of a company, make it seem more accessible and approachable, but either you’re a good company, have a good product or you don’t. Branding can only influence so much, but ultimately, it’s up to the consumers to weed out the tourists and support the companies that bring them true value.

 

These brands are not just a veneer, they are truly an extension of the teams behind them...

 

Sometimes we see brands change and become lesser versions of themselves. How can this be avoided?

The most important thing about a brand is that it should be considered a living entity that constantly requires management and evolution. Too often there is this “set it and forget it” mentality, which over time, leave the company wondering why their brand is not firing at the signal it once used to. As a company grows and changes, the brand has got to both anticipate and react to these changes. 

More and more we see the role of a creative director or chief creative officer... whatever title you want to put on it... as part of the executive team.  It’s critically important to have an individual with a creative perspective, that fully understands the target audiences, holds the creative vision, and is embedded within all aspects of the operation. Without that, there are often really good ideas that don’t get realized, or really bad ideas that get pushed forward. 

Answering this question reminds me of when I presented work to Barry Diller and what he said to me really stuck. Long story short, we worked for months with one of his marketing teams  in a rebranding project for one of his ailing companies. At the presentation, Mr. Diller sat quietly through the whole dog and pony show. At the end of the presentation, he leaned back in his chair and simply said “looks like a lot of ambition without any purpose.” And that was that. Project DEAD.  My take-away then, was that had we been working with someone with the creative vision who understood the strategic goals of the company, we could have avoided a whole lot of wasted time. Having said this, I wouldn’t have done it differently –  it was a crushing career lesson I embodied in all my work moving forward.   

 

What Canadian cannabis brands have impressed you?

Obviously, I’m bias, but what we did with Tweed, I’ll always be proud of. Currently, I am really liking some of the smaller, more focused brands like Tokyo Smoke, Lift, 7-Acres, Tantalus Labs and of course Feather Company (shameless plug). These brands have like-minded visions for the future of the Canadian cannabis landscape and the role that their respective brands play within it. These brands are not just a veneer, they are truly an extension of the teams behind them – a display of constant creativity, innovation and excellence.  It’s this honesty in who they are, that will create a coast-to-coast community that will set Canada apart as the global leader in the cannabis space.

 

Describe a ritual - any ritual - that’s important to you.

Vinyl, a Feather and a fire.