“Don’t fail before you start,” says Wick & Mortar CEO and Founder Jared Mirsky when Green Market Report caught up on him regarding the latest shakeup in the cannabis industry regarding the Woodstock brand and name.
The promise of a 50th-anniversary concert in honor of Woodstock 1969 came and went, yet stir around the Woodstock name over the last couple of years in the cannabis industry cast a big cloud over the “peace and love” vibe that the event tries to promote, and it wasn’t cannabis smoke.
It started in February 2018, when Woodstock Ventures, the founders of the original 1969 festival and the established brand tied to the festival, sued Woodstock Roots, a Pennsylvania holding company that sells hemp rolling papers, vaporizers and other extracts under the consumer brand Woodstock American Products. Woodstock Roots countersued, filing a preliminary injunction against Woodstock Ventures, stating that Woodstock Roots had already filed for a trademark in 2013 to use the Woodstock name at the festival. The injunction sought to prevent the original brand from entering into licensing agreements to sell products at the 50th-anniversary concert that was to take place this summer.
Woodstock Ventures had been working with MedMen (MMNFF) to create cannabis products under the Woodstock brand, stepping on the toes of Woodstock Roots, who thought they had the monopoly on selling Woodstock-branded cannabis, even donning the tagline “since 1969”.
The case got stuck in court, leaving the two companies in a standstill as to who would be able to sell products under the Woodstock name, and no matter what these companies could do to push the case forward in court, everything seemed to be against them.
The original ruling judge died, making the case take a few steps back until late-July, just days before the concert was canceled, when a new judge denied Woodstock Roots’ request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that Woodstock Ventures would be the only company permitted to carry on cannabis product sales using the Woodstock name.
Now, with the 5oth anniversary concert of Woodstock officially canceled, the case itself may be moot for selling cannabis at Woodstock festivals, but it certainly brings up a large issue for the cannabis industry in terms of branding and naming cannabis companies.
“There seems to be a big misunderstanding in terms of what you can and can’t do in terms of naming,” says Wick & Mortar’s Jared Mirsky. Wick & Mortar is the first branding and marketing firm in the world that provides services exclusively to the cannabis industry. It has been in operation for over ten years under Mirsky’s leadership.
“Trying to take licenses of a company so tied to a culture I feel is an infringement,” says Mirsky, “The execution of a product so closely tied to a brand like Woodstock, could be detrimental to the established Woodstock brand.”
Mirsky says that the naming process is a large part of the services that Wick & Mortar take clients through when branding and marketing their products. “If a client has chosen a name that we have advised against, we ask them to sign a waiver acknowledging this,” says Mirsky, who has seen too many instances of brands getting themselves in hot water by infringing on other brands or established brand cultures.
According to Mirsky, choosing a name that is too closely aligned with another brand, or choosing a name that will fail to translate into global markets, is one of the biggest “faux pas” that cannabis brands can undertake. “This happens all the time,” says Mirsky, “Companies fail to do their due diligence, or even worse, they don’t care and take names anyway, figuring that they’ll remain unseen in the dilution of brands, and when it comes to it, they’ll eventually have the wealth to battle any brand infringements in court.”
Mirsky says originality is key when choosing a name. “When you have a brand name that is far more original, you increase your brand equity valuation,” explains Mirsky, “Wick & Mortar helps brands establish brand valuation by focusing on brand equity.” An example of brand equity is the ability to transfer a name to different SKUs and products, or the ability to bring brands to the global front, and have the name translate culturally.
“If a company is doing CBD pre-rolls, and now wants to move into providing topicals, or capsules, or any other cannabis product, there already could be another established brand offering those products under the same name,” explains Mirsky. When a brand fails to be able to translate across different products or SKUs purely due to the name already being taken, their brand equity valuation decreases.
Brands who don’t take cultural translation into account may also have trouble expanding globally. Take for instance the cannabis company Puff Cannabis Co. Standing for “People United For Flower”, Puff seeks to celebrate the 1970s and flower power movement through its developing brand. “While this word certainly resonates within the North American cannabis industry,” says Mirsky, “The word ‘puff’ means something else in other cultural contexts,” he goes on, referring to the word being a slang British term to refer to homosexuals. “This brand would have difficulty going global.”
What can companies do to avoid mishaps in their name and branding? “Be original!” says Mirsky, “Choose a name unlike anything else, a name that allows you to do whatever you want with it.” Mirsky also suggests that creating names from made-up words, or synonyms of words relating to the industry can help build originality and avoid any naming infringement mishaps.
As far as naming a company “Canna” anything, that is far overdone, according to Mirsky. Even the word “canna” in your name could fail to translate to global markets, even if you’re offering legalized products derived from cannabis, like hemp-CBD. “The market is saturated with canna this, and canna that,” says Mirsky, “Don’t fail before you start. Start with a strong brand name, because in the end, you’ll be worth more because you’re different.”