The Changing Face of Beer Branding

Once upon a time, beer branding efforts were rather mundane. You had recognizable can and bottle designs that consumers could easily recognize in the grocery store cooler, but there was little beyond that. Part of the reason for this lack of diversity in the past was the simple fact that there was very little in the way of competition. Big Beer was really your only option, and depending on where you lived, you had only a handful of those selections. Today, the story has changed significantly.

The Rise of Craft Beer Forces Innovation in Branding

Today, the nation enjoys an incredible diversity of beer selections thanks to the rise of craft beer. US drinkers have more options right now than at any point since Prohibition (and possibly before). While that is certainly good news for those who want to branch out and try something different, all those options do have an adverse effect. They make it hard to tell what’s what on the market. 

With hundreds of new craft breweries starting up each year, beer drinkers are finding it harder and harder to decide what they want to drink. Breweries see the problem and have taken steps to combat it – branding innovation. What’s it all about?

Branding Innovation Equals…?

So, other than giving consumers a label or can design that is instantly recognizable, what is behind the shift in branding within the beer world? Recognition is certainly one of the key benefits here but it is far from the only one. In fact, it seems to be more about getting attention than creating a memorable design that will last for years. With the growing number of beer options open to consumers today, brewers are finding it necessary to find ways to stand out from the crowd. What are some of the most notable branding moves out there?

Cartoons

Cartoons are pretty popular, especially long-running shows like The Simpsons. One remarkable example of innovative branding is the creation of Duff Beer, based on the brew Homer chugs in The Simpsons. While this particular beer wasn’t marketed in mass quantities, it was a huge hit via Internet sales and showed just how willing consumers really are to make a deeper connection with pop culture icons they like.

Make It Your Own

Personalization has become a huge tool for companies – even M&M’s have gotten in on the act. You’ll find that this trend is not wasted on breweries, either. Danish brewer Turbog has been offering their customers the chance to personalize beer bottles with their photos (or any other picture they want to use) and the program has been pretty popular.

Green Packaging

Cardboard has always played a role in packaging for the beer industry, most notably in the form of 6-pack containers, 12-pack containers and cases. However, one Russian chain has taken it a step further and created perhaps the ultimate green packaging. The Mug Pub offers a cardboard 4-pack carrier that holds four cardboard cups of beer. Each cup has a lid with a sticker to denote what type of beer the drinker will find inside. 

Art, Art, Art

It seems to have taken brewers a little while to realize this simple fact that all college students seem to grasp intuitively – beer bottles and cans are works of art. Who doesn’t remember having that college beer bottle collection? Well, quite a few brewers have taken the hint and are using those bottles and cans as canvases for some pretty intriguing art. You’ll find everything from Art Deco to fantasy themes, tarot-inspired works to post modernism.

Music

Everyone has blown across the mouth of a bottle at some point and heard the musical note produced. One brewer has taken that a step further and introduced beer (Tuned Pale Ale) that features music notes on the label. You simply drink the beer down to the note you want to hit and then blow across the bottle’s mouth to hear it. While it might not inspire an impromptu jam fest with your friends, it is certainly a unique and interesting take on branding.

Specific Celebrations

Another way that brewers are spicing up their branding is by creating specific bottle and can designs for various celebrations throughout the year. Perhaps the most obvious is St. Patrick’s Day in March, but there are many others. St. Paddy’s Day is marked with Irish-themed designs complete with shamrocks and “Slainte” slogans, but other cultural celebrations are also becoming prime targets for this move. Expect to see more and more celebratory labels making their debut in your area, particularly from creative craft brewers.

Ultra-High End

While few craft brewers have leapt into the ultra-high end image arena, several big name companies have. The most obvious would be Heineken, capitalizing on their existing reputation for being a luxury, premium beer. These designs feature sleek, white labels with understated logos and lettering. The overall result is one of beauty and tasteful design that really does stand out from the hordes of other designs screaming, “look at me”.

Capping Options and Unique Bottle Shapes

Finally, you will also find that branding methods don’t stop at the bottle label. Capping methods can also be used to help make a beer stand out from the herd. For instance, you will find some beer markers use cork and wax to seal their bottles, while others make use of short, squatty bottles. In fact, the number of bottle shapes used has grown by leaps and bounds as more brewers realize that consumers will pick up a 6-pack based on bottle design and capping method alone.

As you can see, beer branding efforts have definitely changed in recent years and you can expect them to continue evolving as brewers find newer and newer ways to make their offerings stand out. For beer drinkers, that shift in branding methods results in some pretty interesting bottling and packaging designs to try out though the beverage contained in the bottle might not live up to the hype created by the package.

Posted on November 14, 2011 and filed under Design and Packaging.