Terrapin and Sam Adams have both provided me with some fodder recently. I thought, given how different the breweries and businesses are, it might make a decent contrast for the post.
Terrapin, as you may remember, is the Atlanta college suburb of Athens, and uses tons of bright color, bold flavors, collaborations and different artists for their work. The challenge there, of course, is consistent branding in the midst of variety.
You may remember their efforts to raise some money of the rebuilding of the Georgia Theatre. Here is their third in the four-beer series, Sound Czech:
Here's a piece by Richard Biffle, who does some of Terrapin's work.
Okay, so as small, Southern, varied and loud as Terrapin is, Boston Beer Company (d/b/a Sam Adams) is (by craft beer standards) enormous, corporate, Northeast, and conservative.
The Sam Adams look has not changed much at all in it's 25-year history. So you can imagine my interest when they unveiled a new look for their Imperial Series. For these, it's best to look at them all at once:
The back label looks like this:
But just as in beer, that reasoning is lazy, wrongheaded, and - if we stop and think about it for a minute - the very definition of unsophisticated. Are none of the 50 best beers in the world lagers? Most serious beer people would say "of course not." And similarly, while there is value in diverse style and bright character that jumps off the shelf, there is also value in controlled, subdued design (remember Samurai Artist's work yesterday).
The key is picking virtues appropriate for the medium and subject. A massive, hoppy explosion can be good for a double IPA but would make a crappy kolsch. Likewise, Outkast references would not add life to Sam Adams' beers, they would dilute a hard-built brand and potentially confuse consumers. Meanwhile, if Terrapin were to buckle down, use one artist and keep everything in the same tightly controlled composition and brand standards, it would not solidify the brand, it would remove the vibrancy that is so crucial to the company's character.
So we have two totally different label arrays by two totally different breweries, and we therefore see two totally different - and equally effective - strategies for branching out from existing brands.