A story of espionage and cannabis

  • Brand Identity
  • Brand Strategy
  • Packaging
  • Website
  • Merchandise
  • Interior Design
  • Animation

The Challenge

Born in Wales, Howard Marks became one of the world’s most wanted cannabis barons. An Oxford nuclear physics and philosophy graduate, he was famously acquitted of the largest importation of cannabis into Britain, after claiming that his involvement in cannabis was on behalf of MI6. A decade later, he was arrested by the DEA at the height of the drug war for his global cannabis network, and sentenced to twenty-five years. He served seven years in one of the US’s toughest penitentiaries before being released on parole and penning his best-selling autobiography, Mr Nice. We were asked by Howard’s family to create a cannabis brand that would speak to this legacy and continue on his philanthropic work. No mean feat.

    The Approach

    We wanted the brand to be recognizable to the two million plus people familiar with Howard’s story. With this in mind we looked to the graphic styling of the book for inspiration. Taking the Franklin Gothic typeface and refining it for a modern audience. We wanted the identity to be simple and practical, so we locked up the “MR” within the “N” to create a marque that on first glance read “NICE”. This allowed the brand to insert itself into brand statements and become a marque that clearly communicated the brands purpose, to spread the power of being nice through cannabis culture.

    When it came to designing the brands packaging, we were spoilt for inspiration. Howard was famous for creatively packaging his product before shipping it around the world, so we delved into the family archive to discover some hidden stories. We discovered that when shipping hash from Bangladesh and Pakistan, Howard used classic tea tins to hide the shipment. This inspired us to design a custom and modern tea tin to store the brands precious CBD flower. Not only is the tin functional in it’s air tight quality, but it also served as a distinctive and own able brand structure to leverage.

    In order continually support the brand, we created a suite of assets from animations to apparel in order to help continue to market the brand. The identity served as an inspiring start point for design collaborations and extensions into multiple product categories from streetwear to home goods.

    We created a custom website with an ecom platform to help drive sales of Mr NICE products. The website served as a place for the brand to generate content and take it’s customers on a journey into their world of cannabis culture.

    After creating the brand concept and pitching to investors, there was appetite to build a brick and mortar store to sell the brands and collaborators products. We were tasked with designing the store and it’s contents.

    Reaching back into Howards story, we pulled elements that served as inspiration for forms, material and finishes. We established the idea of “Tropical Brutalism” as central to the brands physical world, drawn from Howards love of the tropics to grow his crop and the brutalist style popular during his glory years.

    The final concept was a balance of polished concrete, rich oak textures and tropical planting, with a mixture of modern and surprising forms and features.

    The Outcome

    Mr NICE launched as the first British cannabis lifestyle brand on 4-20 2018 to much fanfare. Howard was a much loved figure in British culture, and his story being told in a modern way engage a new generation of fans, recruiting an audience for the brands future.

    As the first UK based cannabis culture brand, Mr NICE was able to steer the narrative to one that broke stigmas and established the category as a positive influence on society. The brand continues Howard’s legacy with it’s foundation that supports prison reform and helps ex convicts get back on their feet through re-education programs.

    We learned a lot working on this project, in particular the power of being NICE.

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