By Charles Roques
The underdog nerds and social misfits of the 1980s were too engrossed in their studies and technology experiments to pay attention to the social rituals of their peer students. For this they were sometimes ostracized or ridiculed based on social norms of behavior. The nerds might have been socially inept, but they were not intellectually inept.
What the nerds really had was intelligence that came from their experimentation and belief in the technology they were developing. Social skills didn’t have a lot of importance when compared to their long-term vision. This was an oversight from the in-crowd about the potential capabilities of this group who in the end had their revenge, creating innovative companies and becoming rich. Could this also happen for the laid-back “stoners” and “potheads” as well?
The nerds were and are independent thinkers. If you don’t belong to a group or clique or hang out with the crowd, you won’t learn their customs or their way of acting or talking, but it is often based on prevailing fashion and is very transitory. So that begs the question of just how important attention to fashion and behavior really is. Like anything else, it is based on appearances and we know how shallow that perception can be.
There are many stereotypes about the “love generation,” especially to those who only know the printed history. Marijuana use was often associated with LSD, social rebellion and sexual promiscuity under the guise of “free love” in the late 60s so the free spirits seemed at the time more like loose cannons to the conservatives around them. But the truth is that there were many who, although dressed in the hippie fashions of that era, were responsible people with careers and professions. But fashion can be powerful and if you were to look at pictures from that time you might group together many people who shared little in common but dressed like they did. We read much into images whether we realize it or not.
Since this is a large demographic with estimations of American cannabis users being as high as 100 million for casual users and as low as 14 million for regular users, with many aware of the beneficial properties of the plant, the stoned hippie perception could have mellowed. Maybe they are not so “spaced out” after all. The industry is a product of their thinking and connection with the cannabis plant. The innovation going on certainly belies any notion of initiative-challenged, forgetful music lovers losing track of how many brownies they consumed.
Perceptions change and labels and images reflect that. Many street names for marijuana were coined to avoid detection by law enforcement when used in conversations. One small recent change to this is the use of the word cannabis, the original name of the plant, to reflect its true nature and remove it from all the fashionable slang used over the years to hide its real name.
The disguised terms for marijuana may look quaint now, but the power of stereotypes can linger. Many past trends and habits may look ridiculous to us as we remember bell-bottoms, tie-dye shirts, dream catchers and similar images. We like to wonder how anyone could be so silly about trends and fashion looking back yet we can ignore how fashion affects how we perceive things. It is easy to be seduced by packaging and press-release rhetoric and forget true fundamental values of business ethics and practices. Flashy products and images always tap into prevailing fashion norms and even give temporary relevance, albeit superficial, to products and companies.
If you really want to know a cannabis company, don’t just base your knowledge on its cool graphics and cleverly designed products. This may be a new sector, but old-fashioned branding and identity imaging still take advantage of the latest trends. Companies will capitalize on fashionable imagery, especially if the trend is associated with sophistication or wealth. We scoff at cheap imitations of very expensive branded items, but often forget that they do actually sell because of their association with something of quality. That distinctive blue Tiffany bag that someone has on the subway going to work in the morning probably just holds their lunch.
It is sometimes difficult in the cannabis sector to separate the well-dressed companies from those with truly innovative products and well-managed companies. Don’t be seduced by the hip-looking products that tap into a temporary aesthetic. There can be a thin line between innovation and gimmickry.
The cannabis sector is a great opportunity, but one that has to be perceived through the scrim of slick trappings and hip visual imagery that comes with it, as in any industry. Make sure the coolness and up-to-date look are not a disguise like the blue Tiffany lunch bag. If you are curious about this innovative sector and how it is disrupting things, don’t just follow the promotional press releases or cool looking logos or smart packaging. A beautiful empty box is still an empty box.
The stoners weren’t so wrong about using cannabis and the majority of them didn’t become addicted to harder drugs, so we can put that ridiculous stereotype to rest. Perhaps it’s time to revise your thinking about the power of appearances, especially when it comes to cannabis-related companies and how they package themselves. You don’t want to judge or be judged by appearances so don’t make investing decisions based on them either.