June 7, 2011

Redhook's New Look, Two Months Later

So, in March, Seattle, WA's,  Redhook revealed a totally revamped look. Redhook is a member of the Craft Brewing Alliance, which is the part-ABI-owned group that includes Kona, Widmer and, until recently, Goose Island.

Redhook has been a big name in the quasi-craft-beer world for a while, so its revamp was covered heavily by beer bloggers and design people alike. I thought about wading in, but honestly had little to add to the excellent examinations I'll link herein. So instead, I decided to wait a couple months, and see if I felt at all differently about the revamp then. 

Here's the logo:

Armin at Brand New had this to say:
Although the logo didn’t change its form, its application is far better than the previous one that relied on awkward bevelation. The distressed look is perhaps a cliché for Northwest-down-to-earth brands, but it pays off here giving Redhook an appropriate “aged” look. I would have given them bonus points for actually distressing the logo (even just biting some off the edges) rather than just applying a texture on top the sharp vector logo.
At the time I though the "distressed look" was a bit cliche, now I think I agree with this sentiment close to 100%. It's an improvement, certainly, though it could have done a bit more.

The centerpiece of the revamp is the new bottle, a squatter, old-school style that was seen in the 1970s and earlier, but is unique in today's craft beer market.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana performed one of his brand dissections, in which he spoke with Redhook brand manager Robert Rentsch"
[We wanted to] celebrate our heritage. Reconnect with our roots and be true to what the brand is all about--going back to those early days. We used that as a starting point for all the decisions that came out of that. Our prior bottle was a longneck, and it was a little precious, we thought. We wanted something a little more real."When we first started bottling, we were using the old style 'heritage' bottle... We considered that for a while, but then we looked at some older, stubby-style bottles and that gave us some inspiration. It felt right for Redhook."
As Alworth points out, the bottle has roots specifically in the Northwest. The Daily Pull's Brady Walen also had some good thoughts focused around the decision to keep or discard beer names.

In terms of branding, there's some interesting stuff going on here.  It's evident that Redhook is looking to simplify its core lineup; it's heading down a path of using or emphasizing a beer's style as its name.  But the reluctance to change completely drop "Long Hammer", due to existing brand equity and recognition, demonstrates some compromise to the overall effort... It's a challenge that is experienced by all breweries.  Should beer names at a brewery follow a consistent theme?  It all depends on the brand.

I'd add that there is yet one more tension between beer names and brewery brand, an area where design can play a big role. Still, two months later, this seems like less of a big deal. Everyone knows what Redhook is, beer and brand-wise (i.e., a brewery that has never found a strong identity and beer that is always is just a bit more middling than one might hope) and these tweaks have not noticeably altered any of that. They probably could have changed - or not - just about every beer name; it's not like they were messing with any universally renowned product lines.

Then there's the ad campaign, which you can still see exemplified at the time of this posting by going to the Redhook site. I'll use Walen's screenshot:
Other examples, found on billboards and the like, via Trendhunter:

Trendhunter tells us:
The Redhook May 2011 beer ads were done by ad agency Frank Unlimited, and feature semisexual lines such as “Redhook’s okay with you staring at his new package.” These cheeky lines make the beer sound as if it’s taking about itself in the third person—very amusing!
Hint: if you have to write "very amusing!" at the end, then it wasn't. Frankly, this is where it came off the rails for me two months ago. Personification? Redhook is a man? Why is that funny?

And two months later... it still seems remarkably awful. In fact, the more I've thought about it, the worse it feels. They had me at the beginning, with the new bottle and the distressed look and the clear new vision of a back-to-basics "authenticity" approach. Then you add this bizarre element where the brand is a guy, and apparently he's a jerk. How does this fit, or help, the brand at all? Laying aside the fact that it's blatantly inhospitable to women drinkers, the campaign just seems frat-house-oriented, which is not usually a good strategy for a craft beer audience.

One last thing I wanted to touch on was a comment by Alworth that was too excellent not to repost, in light of the new bottle:
It is a fascinating irony that the industrial design of midcentury has now become a stand-in for authenticity. That old regional beer [from which the bottle shape comes] was anything but authentic. Yet our nostalgia for a time when Americans made things, when we were naively optimistic about rocketing into the future, is one of the most potent elements in beer design. So by referencing the industrial age--the moment America was furthest from artisanal craftsmanship--now suggests to the modern brain the idea of authenticity. The contrast between this new bottle and the old bottle is a lesson in psychology. One resonates on a subconscious level, one resonates not at all.
No wonder he's number 1 or 2 in the Wikio rankings.

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