Cannabis brands, products steeped in nostalgia aim to attract generational consumers

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Image of cannabis brands intended to invoke nostalia

Early 1980s soul revival Chicago-style.

Smoking blunts with friends in the late 1980s.

The SoCal street sound and culture of the early 1990s.

Cannabis companies nationwide are infusing a heavy dose of nostalgia in their products and building brands based on fond memories, good times and the soundtracks of some of our formative years.

Resurrecting defunct record labels, rock-band encores and cult-classic throwbacks are all part of the remix.

Other forms of entertainment are finding wild success and new audiences with blasts from the past, evident at the box office and streaming services.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” a near carbon copy of the original, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture after grossing nearly $1.5 billion.

Metallica’s 1986 masterpiece, “Master of Puppets,” the title track of the band’s third album, climbed into Spotify’s Top 10 most-played songs last year after playing a key element in the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which introduced throngs of younger listeners to the metal icons.

The comedy duo Steve Martin and Martin Short, who first paired up in the 1986 movie “Three Amigos!” have hit streaming gold on Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” joining other contemporaries of that era finding new life in the digital era, including another comeback story for the Karate Kid in Netflix’s “Cobra Kai.”

Nostalgia not only evokes positive memories, belonging and coming of age, research has shown it affects consumer behavior and increases purchases.

“We really want to be able to deliver that ’90s feel of having a good time and not necessarily breaking the bank,” said Tiffany Chin, head of strategy for Death Row Cannabis, one of rapper Snoop Dogg’s first ventures since acquiring the defunct label about two years ago.

The ubiquitous entertainer is aiming to revitalize Death Row Records with a line of cannabis products and new artists.

The label, founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey, helped skyrocket Snoop, Tupac and other gangsta rappers to superstardom while exporting West Coast hip-hop worldwide.

Similarly, entrepreneurs who are fans of the 1981 animated stoner flick “Heavy Metal” – and the magazine that gave it life – are reanimating the Heavy Metal brand with a new line of marijuana products commemorating the fusion of sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

And, in a nod to American ska punk band Sublime, the newly established brand Reefers by Sublime is asking Southern California consumers to smoke two joints to make them feel all right.

The name of the brand and inaugural product lineup are ripped from “Smoke Two Joints” – from Sublime’s 1992 debut album, “40oz. to Freedom” – a cover that takes a swipe at the absurdity of the Reefer Madness era.

“Sublime was not a big corporate band,” explains Rob Taft, the owner of Orange County-based 420 Central, a marijuana store, and The Healing Plant, a cannabis product manufacturer that struck a licensing deal with Sublime bandmates and the estate of front man Bradley Nowell, who died of a heroin overdose in 1996.

The band was straight from Long Beach, just like Top Shelf Cultivation, a licensed operator that grows strains for the Reefer brand. Its legacy cultivators also grew marijuana for Sublime back in the day.

“It was very important right out of the gate that whatever we put forth is done with people that are truly the artists in this industry,” Taft said.

A secondhand emotion                             

Sublime was formed in 1988, the same year rapper and Grammy Award-winner Big Daddy Kane started introducing references of blunts in his performances.

That influence more than 30 years later – and a few decades of smoking blunts – helped Neil Hagen spark the 1988 blunt brand for Phoenix-based multistate operator 4Front Ventures.

“Cannabis is a very emotional thing,” said Hagen, 4Front’s supply-chain director who fondly remembers those hazy days with childhood friends in suburban Detroit.

The 1988 line of flavored blunts launched in February at 4Front’s Mission Dispensaries in Massachusetts. For compliance, 4Front’s versions are tobacco-free, a new spin on an old favorite.

“A lot of my memories are tied to cannabis,” said Hagen, who aimed to fuse his love of blunts with his early experiences of consuming cannabis.

“It’s human nature to reminisce on times gone, and it can be a very positive experience to have something remind you of an earlier point in your life,” he added.

“That’s what we tried to do with 1988.”

Bag it, tag it

Cannabis entrepreneur George Sadler has similar memories of procuring a strain called Band-aid Buds as a young adult in Oregon – and the ritual of loading a triple chamber bong with friends while watching Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on laser disc.

Years later, Sadler and his management team set out to create brands that allowed consumers to have fun with cannabis.

At one brainstorming session, his son Cody, now 32, came up with the brand name Baggie Buds.

The flower is packaged in clear baggies, with the brand name on the bag in hand-drawn black magic marker font.

“In my time, that’s how I used to get weed, and if you were lucky, it was a Ziploc bag,” recalled Sadler, the CEO and co-founder of the San Diego-based brand, which is distributed throughout California.

He’s seen a resurgence in consumers seeking quality flower and purchasing bongs, and his brands are trying to meet them there.

“What we’re trying to do is give an experience with everything,” Sadler added.

“I just hope we can continue to bring those experiences to the table, especially for the younger people to have these experiences we had when we were younger.”

Hip-hop and headbangers

The entertainment industry, particularly streaming services and podcasts, have gone all in on nostalgia the past few years, introducing younger audiences to characters, music and imagery that captured the zeitgeist of their day.

In some ways, Heavy Metal Entertainment and Death Row Records are doing the same.

The iconic West Coast label has released a selection of OG strains in the California market under its newly established Death Row Cannabis brand, which just launched a line of pre-rolls, all priced at less than $50 an eighth.

The brand is not only trying to appeal to a younger audience but also aiming to win over fans who were young adults when Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and Snoop’s “Doggystyle” – two of the most successful records in history – were released in the early 1990s.

“It’s been really cool to see that expanded scope but in a more genuine, authentic way of capturing that audience,” Death Row Cannabis’ Chin said.

Heavy Metal Entertainment, which is also under new ownership, plans an omnichannel blitz resurrecting the brand in print publishing, online content and new animated and live action TV and film.

As part of the rollout strategy, Massachusetts-based, vertically integrated operator Berkshire Roots launched Heavy Metal Cannabis, a brand melding products with stories and characters from the Heavy Metal universe.

“This is the first step in the resurgence of the Heavy Metal brand,” Berkshire Roots CEO James Winokur said.

On a mission from God

The 1980 cult-classic movie “The Blues Brothers” and ensuing spinoff traveling tours have been entertaining audiences for 40-plus years.

Jake Blues was originally played by John Belushi, who electrified the stage on “Saturday Night Live” before the big screen.

Dan Aykroyd, who has played Elwood Blues since the start, ultimately pulled Belushi’s sibling Jim into The Blues Brothers world after John’s death in 1982 from an overdose of cocaine and heroin.

In 2020, The Blues Brothers brand launched its first line of pre-rolls grown by Jim Belushi’s Oregon-based cannabis company, Belushi’s Farm.

The farm also serves as the primary location for the Discovery reality TV show, “Growing Belushi,” which will launch its third season this spring.

“The Blues Brothers is about legacy. It is about nostalgia. It is about people of passion and joy with spiritual purpose,” Belushi told MJBizDaily.

The brand reflects that and Belushi’s self-diagnosed role as a performer: simply, to help people feel better.

It reflects his deeper beliefs in marijuana as well.

“Cannabis, there’s so much joy in it. There’s mischievousness, fun and a sweetness to it. And cannabis is loaded with medicine, which is a mission from God to me to healing,” said Belushi, who believes his brother would be alive today if he had been a pothead.

“So I thought it was a perfect brand for cannabis.”

Blues Brothers music, which revitalized the songs of 1950s and 1960s Black rhythm and blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Isaac Hayes and Taj Mahal, is the connective thread that links generations, according to Belushi.

“It’s the music, man. Music just lives on and on and past us,” he said with a bit more mysticism.

“And cannabis is a sister to music.”

Chris Casacchia can be reached at chris.casacchia@mjbizdaily.com.