7 best packaging practices for cannabis marketers

By Tom Newmaster in Packaging Design on August 02, 2019

Brands should apply classic best practices in packaging design to cannabis marketing to cut through the competitive clutter, encourage social media sharing, make a statement and more.


As the legalization of cannabis spreads across the country, a disruptive new variety of products is hitting the market. Even in this brave new world, many of the old laws apply—especially when it comes to packaging design. That’s why it’s worth considering how the tried-and-true rules of good packaging and brand design may still be relevant, even to the wild new frontier of cannabis products.

Here are seven best practices and how you can translate them into the design language of pot.

1. Understand the “Natural Habitat” and aim for mind-blowing shelf impact

This is one of the basic rules of packaging. If you don’t stand out on shelf, you’re dead in the water. Or more appropriately, your brand goes up in smoke. All the senses need to be engaged. It’s got to not only look appealing; it needs to be pleasing to the touch and not turn off the consumer with an annoying sound (remember Sun Chips’ compostable bag that had consumers saying, “It’s noisy as hell!”)? In fact, I tell my designers that they have one job and one job only—get the consumer to pick up the package, Because 85% of consumers who do this buy the product. Case closed.

To create great packaging, you need to study the “Natural Habitat” where the product lives. The same goes for cannabis brands. Right now, the dispensary is where cannabis products with THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects] reside, in all varieties of cabinets, counters and displays. But what will happen when federal legalization occurs? Will products be as visible, and touchable, as bottles on the shelf of your local liquor store? However it all shakes down, you can be sure a classic rule of thumb will apply—your labeling and packaging must be distinctive to break through the visual and sensory noise generated by its many neighboring brands.

When I think about shelf impact, a favorite example is Koffee Kult. The packaging and its messaging encourage you to “Be one of us.” Who can resist? This brand plays perfectly to the connoisseur mindset of the craft coffee drinker. One can only imagine how powerfully an exclusive club vibe like this would play to the cannabis devotee.


NEXT: Shape, color, text—repeat after me…shape, color, text

Tom Newmaster

Tom Newmaster is the founder of Central Pennsylvania-based FORCEpkg. He has more than 25 years of experience in branding and package design for consumer packaged goods. From 1998 to 2016, he was a principal and co-owner of WFM where he led creative and won awards for The Hershey Co., Pfizer, Stoner Car Care and Zippo. Newmaster has launched new products for Fresh Solutions Network, Koch’s Turkey, Klamath Basin Fresh Organics and Wolfgang Candy, to name a few. He has become a leading voice in the package and design industry and, more recently, a trusted source in the cannabis industry, as it relates to packaging and design. He serves as an adjunct instructor at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

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