March 19, 2013

The Insanely Opulent Collateral Briefcase for Budweiser's Black Crown

Some things are so enormous, they demand attention.

Quit snickering; she did not say that.

I mean that I do a blog on marketing design, and most of the stuff I write about differs in form, but not function. It's package design, printed collateral, the odd bottle opener or glassware, and lots of label art. I love it; it makes it easy to learn lots about the industry norms. But the reason for it is that most breweries are small businesses, and cash-conscious. When one gets to the point where it has money, like Dogfish or Victory, it puts that money into expansion or bigger marketing things it can sell (like Dogfish's art). None of them are big enough that they can do crazy marketing things just to do it.

Only a few breweries in the world could do that. One of them is Anheuser-Busch-InBev, largest brewing conglomerate in the world.

I got a huge briefcase from Budweiser for their Black Crown launch during the Super Bowl. It's sort of the capstone to the Project 12 thing I've written about quite a bit, and so they had a Budweiser-sized launch.

Here's what you can do with massive marketing dollars:

It's a giant silver briefcase. It looks sort of like something you'd keep launch codes or cyberwarfare tech or things with half-lives in.
Big marketing dollars at work
Seriously, it's like 2 and a half feet thick.

So what's inside?

#Tasteis a lot of things, apparently
Holy crap.

A bunch of foam egg carton on the top, and a wonderfully insulated display that includes three beers, a branding card, and...

I still have this, because what does one do with a giant suitcase of stuff?
I literally have no idea how much this cost.
Right, that's six vials on the left of what taste is. From top: beechwood chips, caramel malt, a lipstick smear (aka "passion"), glitter confetti (aka "great show"), a ballot from project 12 ("handpicked"), and nothing ("the unknown").

Yep. It's good to have money. They sent me - a not particularly influential person - a giant briefcase filled with mostly just marketing items that serve no purpose. I'm really trying to figure out what to do with it, now that I've had the beer.

About the beer: it's a mediocre lager. Sort of like a stronger, low-rent Yuengling. It lacks any real flavor or character. It's a bummer that the promises of the Project 12 experimentation ended in a very bland beer that, while technically I suppose is flawless, is also definitively lifeless.

I still have serious questions about the whole idea's ability to do anything for Budweiser's market share. I don't see it cracking much of the craft market, and if it does manage to cannibalize some of Bud's existing market, I don't see the consumers staying with it when they can have a Sam Adams Boston Lager. Perhaps the goal is to get consumers before they leave for other beers, in a sort of stop-loss effort? Or maybe the market research team has decided people only like craft because it seems expensive, so if they launch something that seems more expensive, people will drink it. Whatever the case, Bud is obviously committed to it, so I don't think it's going away any time soon.

And I guess this briefcase was a big enough gesture to get me to write about something I really never planned on, so in that sense it worked. Hard to imagine the ROI was positive on the marketing effort, but in big business, sometimes sustaining market position counts as much as generating sales. It really is two different worlds.

March 17, 2013

New Brewery Branding: Los Angeles Ale Works

Back from Texas, Beerfriends, at least for the moment, and I have a new brewery to look at. It's new to you, but I actually had my first contact with Los Angeles Ale Works about a year and a half ago. They're less than a week away from the end of an already successful Kickstarter campaign, and their new stretch goal is to add an extra fermenter to get up and running.

But a new brewery means branding, people.

Let's start with the logo:

Straightforward, if a bit busy. That little bottle text will be, one would assume, gone in smaller uses. Still a lot going on with the gears and the relatively detailed brew kettle. It's a bit odd to have the LA with some sharp little serifs, and the rest of the text in a capped sans serif, except for the LLC, which is weirdly also a serif typeface.

Here's how it will look smaller:
And we see that one would actually be wrong in the assumption about getting rid of the small text. A fairly classic rookie mistake is to put too much into logos (it's one I've made), and it looks like LA Ale Works might be falling into that trap a bit with the logo. Those big serif letters do look pretty swank on leather like this, and the gear stands out well. There's just a touch too much fine detail and small text.

Let's look at the art for the first beer, the Gams-Bart (Goat's Beard):
From the owners, John and Kristofer:

"The Goat's Beard is the feather or brush that sits in an Bavarian Alpine Hat (Lodenhut). Gams-Bart is a Bavarian Style Roggenbier, which is like a bavarian hefeweizen, but uses Rye instead of Wheat." The beer has won an amateur medal at just about every meaningful competition, so it's probably a great Roggenbier. They're brewing it in the quasi-gypsy method that's become a popular collaboration among craft breweries, assisting Ohana Brewing Company on the brewing days.

The art, though: It's by Ken Barnes, an artist/designer who goes by the firm name BSR Branding. The piece reminds me of some of the game hunting tromp l'oeil ("trick the eye") paintings by Alexander Pope. It's simple, detailed and striking. We can only get a glimpse of it in label context in the full projected lineup below:

Stil, it looks very cool. Let's take a look a few other potential labels.

The Parliament Porter:
Pretty straight take on Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta. I have to admit, I'm not totally sure how the intellectual property on such images would work, but I feel like the odds of DC Comics not sending C&D t o LAAW if this hits the market are pretty low. It's well-rendered enough, but it doesn't really bring a whole lot other than a reference to someone else's artwork.

The Dampf Maschine:
We're back to a foreign language beer name, with a touch of irony because it's a California common lager (what we used to call a "steam beer" before Anchor trademarked the term). Cool steampunk dirigibles, nice placement of the logo on the airships, as well. The logo on the label, though, now has even more words surrounding it in the bottom right, which is going to make it even harder to read from any distance farther away than one's hand.

I like the distressed type on the left, and the white/red that frames the labels. That layout will probably be distinctive enough to be apparent from across a bar. The artwork so far is very good, if a bit inconsistent in theme (we have postmodern comics, steampunk airships, and German hunting hats). The one theme that remains is that of internationalism (particularly German, if we look at the big spread above), but the art itself is still a bit scattered.

Overall, for a new brewery, the branding efforts of LAAW are pretty impressive. It's a level of professionalism and refinement not usually seen from new breweries (frankly, because they usually can't afford it). That, the numerous amateur medals, and their Kickstarter success all indicate this could be a West Coast brewery to watch in the coming months.

Okay, enough for now. I've got a huge backlog that I almost certainly can't clear, but it's good to be home and writing again.