Smoke Shops are getting sillier, and it’s no accident.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and you decide to counter your mid-week slump with some edibles, just to have some light fun. You look around and quickly enough you find one of the many Smoke Shops around the city. You walk in and are stunned by the new world you’ve seemingly just entered. Bright trippy colors, neon lights, silly cartoons and signs. The overly friendly man behind the counter asks you what you need and all of a sudden you can’t remember, why did you walk in here originally? It’s too late the man behind the counter has you exactly where he wants you, dazed and confused. You walked in just a person wanting some edibles, but you leave with a new ash tray, some nice smelling candles, an eighth of weed mysteriously titled “THE HULK”, a brand-new five-foot Bong with Rick and Morty stickers all over, and a BIC lighter. You didn’t get the edibles, but you sure did pay the price, and then some.  

Ever since New York City decided to legalize the use of recreational pot, pot and its product have been the next big business to take over the city. Thousands of shops around the city have applied to get their license to legally sell weed, but with those all still pending stores have collectively decided to say, “fuck it” and sell it anyways (fun fact at the time of this being written only three stores in all NYC have a license to sell weed). Now with thousands of stores you’d think they’d all have corporate soulless minimalism names, well to that I say welcome to… 

“Zaza City”, “Telsa Smoke Zone”, “Zaza R Us”, these are just some of the few smoke shops you might’ve seen or heard of in Manhattan, and they keep on popping. I’m sure if you were to walk in any direction, you’d find a smoke shop or dispensary with a name you’d think only a six-year-old could create. However, a six-year-old didn’t come up with these names, there is a business strategy to this seemingly random and goofy aesthetic.  

What recent Smoke Shops have done when it comes to naming, or branding, it’s actually quite genius. When it comes to branding you have to make sure your product has a name that is familiar, easy to remember, and recognizable. However, it’s a double-edged sword, explains, “…naming your brand something that’s too far out there can also have the same effect, in that the brand name will be too unusual and your audience will shy away from it.” See, what Smoke Shops have done is perfectly balance in creating a short but memorable enough name so people can remember them. For example, previously mentioned “Zaza City”, it’s short and simple but odd and silly enough to be remembered.  

Now a name like Zaza City is enough to get customers in the store but how do they keep people in the store? That’s when we get to the actual design of the smoke shops. Most smoke shops all have the same aesthetic; trippy, bright and colorful. A lot of this has to do with the culture around smoking in general, but again most smoke shops follow this certain aesthetic, so what is the next step? The answer; nostalgia. Smoke Shops have been collectively co-opting characters and shows that young people are familiar with. For example, Rick and Morty, a show that isn’t even focused on substances of any kind, is now a massive part of smoking culture. Now it’s normal to see Rick and Morty on bongs, ash trays, vapes, literally anything you can think of, it exists. But it’s not just Rick and Morty, recently smoke shops have started using superheroes, The Simpsons, Popeye the Salor man, even the Kool-Aid Man, yes, the Kool-Aid Man.  

I asked Amir, the owner of a smoke shop simply, “What the hell is the deal with these names, who exactly names and decides them?”. Amir unfortunately wasn’t the naming process himself, “I just get whatever’s hot right now, like the manufacturers give it these crazy names- it’s like trends and shit you know? Whatever’s hot right now, whatever’s funny right now.”. He then showed me his newest batch, titled beautifully, “Ja Morant Runtz”. 

You might think it’s just silly dumb stoner things, but these designs heavily impact one’s mind. Nostalgia, while sometimes negative, is a predominantly positive feeling according to Oxford Academic. Nostalgia is even linked to feelings of motivation and reward. When you think about all these factors combined, it creates an environment made for people to buy products. First by hooking people in with a silly name, placing them in a trippy-like environment made to make one feel lucid. Finally add in a sprinkle of nostalgia, and suddenly, you’re walking out of Zaza City once again and yes, you forgot the edibles again.