In a $196 billion industry that encompasses 85% of America’s alcohol market, it can be exceptionally difficult for beer brands to stand out. The big players are constantly devising new ways to draw attention to their products, and these companies utilize massive marketing and production budgets to bring new and sometimes innovative changes to the game.
Below are five of the craftiest marketing ploys in the big beer industry today and how their looks, functions and overall appeal affect prospective buyers.
“My Bud Light” labels
Photo from Daily Finance
Looks: For a while Bud Light’s labels sported a special feature. The small white space below their logo resembled a dog-eared notepad and encouraged the drinker to “make your mark” by doodling with a key or coin.
A fancy splash graphic played up the side of the label, complementing the curvy aesthetic of the brand name’s border and making us wonder how the little notepad looked so dry. And when inscriptions were made, the paths left behind a metallic outline reminiscent of scratch-off lottery tickets.
Function: The obvious function behind the label is to scrawl your name onto your beer and avoid confusion with other partygoers. The makers also recommend leaving your phone number on the bottle for that good-looking someone across the bar. One commercial for the special beers even shows two guys leaving behind Buds with a suggestive “party” and their address on the side, of course followed by a successful gathering of every attractive woman in their apartment building.
Overall appeal: The “My Bud Light” labels definitely had something going for them. In a world where people use hair ties and defaced labels to keep track of their beer in the crowd, it’s smart to fashion a feature that lets them write their names on it.
But this gimmick is now a thing of the past, as it must not have drawn the response that Budweiser had hoped for in a limited run several years ago. Or perhaps the “limited time only” was meant to be a part of the appeal in itself.
Coors’ cold-activated can
Photo from buba69
Looks: These Coors cans use color to their advantage. What better hue to associate with your brand’s ice cold beer than blue? It’s a common theme in the beer industry (see Bud Light, Labatt Blue, Pabst Blue Ribbon), the color being synonymous with the super chilled temperatures we Americans love our beer served at.
Function: The purpose is evidently to show the consumer that “this beer is cold”. The cans utilize a simple chemical reaction by printing the mountains with thermochromic ink. When the liquid inside gets below a certain temperature, the exterior dye changes from transparent to blue.
And they’re reminiscent of the temperature-activated, color changing charms of days past: 70s mood rings, and those wondrous plastic spoons from the cereal boxes. It’s a nostalgic touch that brings us back to that naïve amazement of our childhood and subconsciously works in the Coors brand’s favor.
Overall appeal: But, then again…what do we have hands for? Must we forsake our sense of touch and wait for the beer to tell us when its contents are ready to sip?
Coors has even gone as far as punching out a little “window” to exhibit the effect of their cold-activation to passersby. It all seems pretty silly to me, but this novelty seems to turn casual beer drinkers on to the beverage.
Miller Lite’s punch tab
Looks: There’s not much to look at here. The punch tab is merely an opportunity for an extra hole in the top of your average Miller Lite can. They’ve added a little instructional graphic on the side to give you the right idea, in case you missed the plethora of advertising on the box you pulled it from.
Function: This product’s design is mundane but touts the special advantage of a smoother pour. The commercial invites drinkers to punch the top out with the tool of their choice, including but not limited to drumsticks, wrenches, baseball trophies and carabiners.
What could always be done with a can opener or set of keys is now made just a little bit easier by the fine folks at Miller. This must be an attempt at inspiring more tasteful shot-gunning practices for the next generation of reckless college kids… right?
Overall appeal: To be fair, I can see why this little feature works for Miller. Anyone who’s bored a makeshift can hole (for whatever purpose) knows it’s an extra bit of fun with a visceral charm of its own. So if you can give people that added amusement by etching another punch-able spot into your can and potentially boost your sales from the tactic, why not?
Miller Lite’s vortex bottle
Photo from Dawn Huczek
Looks: In case you couldn’t tell, Miller is big on the beer gimmicks. Here’s their vortex bottle – a subtle design integration that can be seen through the neck of the bottle in just the right light. Since it may not be immediately noticeable, they give you a reminder on the bright blue strip that reads “vortex bottle” and “specially designed grooves” close to the pouring end.
As long as the drinker isn’t sitting in a dimly-lit bar, this minor redesign may be noticeable and just enough to pique a curious patron’s interest.
Function: Miller claims that their reworked bottle “create[s] a vortex as you’re pouring the beer” and is meant to “create buzz and excitement and give consumers another reason to choose Miller”. But very little from the giant’s mouth on how the tool actually works.
And that’s because it doesn’t do much. We’d expect such a well-touted device to give us an added benefit, such as a quicker pour or better head retention. But recorded user tests and a great deal of written banter tell us that the vortex is pretty worthless when it comes to actual function.
Overall appeal: At first glance (assuming you’re in a bright room) this is a pretty alluring product design. The spiraled pattern on the inside of the beer is interesting and leaves many people curious. But it may also leave them disappointed, as after brief inspection you can tell how silly the vortex design really is.
Big beer’s faux craft beer
Looks: I’ve saved the best (or most deceptive) marketing ploy for last. The big beer companies have all begun producing “craft beers” of their own under the guise of entirely different brands, and I’m clumping them together to save a mouthful.
I must say, they get an A+ for looks. These seemingly craft brews sport deliberately artisanal label designs, playing off the artsy, earthy and offbeat feel of many real craft brands.
Function: The purpose of these brands is, of course, for big beer to get their foot in the door to the now booming craft beer market. Since average consumers and longtime drinkers of domestic light beers are now flocking to the craft section of their local stores in droves, the multinational brewers don’t want to miss out on this increasingly lucrative business.
Overall appeal: The appeal with these beers is huge. For one, they taste much richer and have significantly more body than a watered-down light beer, offering an exciting new experience to people who are used to drinking crap. They’re often slightly cheaper than the real craft beers on the shelf (due to the manufacturing and shipping advantages these big brewers possess), and the bottles themselves are attractive.
But as more people are paying attention to and caring about where their beer comes from, they’re discovering that these brands aren’t quite the real deal. An important aspect of the craft brewing community is, in fact, community. Microbreweries and small business owners alike stress the importance of identity, quality and mutual benefit, and many of their consumers take this to heart.
So for as many people that unknowingly (or uncaringly) pick up six packs of these well-disguised wannabes, there’s a growing dialogue in the brewing community that’s turning people off to the deceptive ploy that is faux craft beer.
Any other crafty marketing ploys worth mentioning? Share them with us in the comments below.