Opinion Series: Designing a New Future For Beer

"We’re entering a world where increasing reliance will be placed on graphic and structural design elements to communicate brands and their values, beliefs and aspirations. So does this mean that beer is going to have to get all jazzy?"

Tess Wicksteed, Executive Vice President of Pearlfisher New York, goes into detail on how to design for the future of beer, listing 5 key starting points on what has made beer substantial since its inception, and what will now keep it relevant for the future.

 

The impact of the craft beer phenomenon cannot be underestimated. It has put the spotlight back on the authenticity that beer has always been known for, communicating this by establishing breakthrough design directions that not just changed the look of this sector but of the beverage category overall.  But, in many ways, beer is a victim of its own success. Due to its immense history and now ‘everyday’ place in consumers minds, beer needs to do more than ever before to be memorable, different and loved. We believe that beer brands now need to look for new ways to design a new authenticity.

Traditionally, beer has been pretty unadventurous. And while this new wave of craft beers tapped into the corresponding artisan food movement to create a striking new aesthetic, it does focus around a relatively narrow frame of reference: stories of craft, ingredients and provenance. These are important, of course, but beer brands are at risk of creating a homogenized category if they keep copy-catting in this single-minded way.

So what is the future of beer? Its high calorie and carb content make it rather out of step with modern food whims and it is saddled by the deep-seated cultural need to stay solid - to stay true to its roots in old school masculinity. Innovation in beer usually focuses on one of two areas: incremental product innovation, led by the category (with variants such as ice beers), or small-scale structural innovation. Neither route significantly builds brand equity or helps reassure consumers that they’re buying into an iconic brand. And that is the goal for today’s brands.

We’re entering a world where increasing reliance will be placed on graphic and structural design elements to communicate brands and their values, beliefs and aspirations. So does this mean that beer is going to have to get all jazzy? Start acting less like a traditional beer and more like a soft drink like Budweiser is doing? We hope not. We’ve identified 5 key starting points for authenticity, focusing on what has made beer substantial since its inception and what will now keep it relevant for the future:

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1. Irreplaceable tradition: playing tribute to its unique history, heritage and customs through both specialness in substance and stature. Think Amstel Leffe. Or, Peroni,: proud and unmistakably Italian with its distinct typeface and crest.

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2. Unraveling story: digging deeper into the origins to reveal unique tales, journeys and legends and not being afraid to be very specific. Looking for new ways to use exoticism or symbolism to more precisely and boldly express the authenticity. Cable Car beer is unashamedly all about San Francisco but the traditional imagery is balanced with the introduction of a strikingly new and contemporary color palette to the category.

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3. Inimitable culture: how to celebrate the brand’s originality through unique skills, techniques, craft and artistry. Design has disrupted this category but there is so much further to go. We need to follow the lead of brands, such as Vedett, with its fresh and bold use of black and white photography.

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4. Unforgettable impression: recreating the feeling of a place or territory through a physical or emotional impact. Stalwarts, such as Cobra and Tiger, are perennially popular for conveying this sense of atmosphere or impression. Inspired by the vintage Mexican version of professional wrestling, Lucha Libre is a great newcomer in this area, using the icons most associated with the sport - the wrestler’s masks – to pay homage to some legendary luchadores, such as El Hijo del Vampiro (Red Ale).

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5. Unmistakable spirit: capturing the unique vibe, energy and aura that comes from the heart and soul of the brand and expressing this through character or voice. Think of the longevity, popularity and particular sense of occasion of original Mexican beer Sol.

 

To secure a strong future, beer will need to get much better at branding. This means starting with a strong brand idea and not just relying on a place or a process. As per our starting points for authenticity - and there will be others - beer brands need to refocus and explore brand ideas that come from the areas they traditionally own but use design to maximize their potential and take them further.

Real food is definitely back in fashion. We need a more real future for beer.


About Tess Wicksteed

Before moving to New York in 2010 to lead Pearlfisher's strategy team, Tess was Strategy Director in London for 10 years. Now, in her role as Executive Vice President, she is a strategic driver in the development of Pearlfisher New York. Tess’s great talent is her instant ability to see the forest through the trees. She trades in originality, clarity and logic, delivering bold imaginative thinking for brands like Coca-Cola, Absolut, Unilever, and Nestle. Short and sharp in all things, she balances refreshing bluntness with disarming humanity. As a literature student at York, Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Tess was keen to become first a clown, then a teacher. It was her belief that good culture matters that finally led to an ongoing commitment to creating powerful brands that contribute positively to the world.

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