There was a time when craft vs. “crafty” was a quaint little battle between the real craft brewers and the Blue Moons and Shock Tops of the world.
While Big Beer’s exercise in futility will certainly continue until the end of time, those “crafty” companies are taking a detour in their marketing efforts. Now they’re getting crafty in its literal definition, getting inventive in another part of business in order to get a little more bank.
As AB InBev comes off a successful past year, they recently sent beer lovers into a tizzy with the announcement of their new “bow tie” cans. Not only do the 11.3-ounce cans hold slightly less beer than normal cans (and 8.5 fewer calories, of course), it will also come in 8-packs.
Novel, unique and you know what? It’s probably going to work.
With the incredible success of Bud Light Platinum – it was the top selling convenience store product in America last year – and what will most likely be inevitable success of Black Crown, AB InBev is on a roll. The new bow tie can will probably continue that.
From a marketing standpoint, the decision to introduce a “flashy” looking can is easy – across ages and sexes, packaging has been found to be among the most important aspects for adding value and identity to a product while also prompting a consumer to buy it. It should be no surprise that it was 2010 when AB InBev began developing the bow tie can, which coincides with a huge spike of craft brewery openings in the U.S.
As with soft drink packaging, companies will change whatever they have to in order to win in a very crowded industry. We’re seeing much of the same with beer, where shelf space is at a premium as more bottles and cans enter the marketplace. Most important for the sake of the new Bud can, then, was the fact that consumers see packaging as a signal of what demographic it’s appropriate for. If Average Joe Sixpack sees “bow tie,” chances are he thinks of things like fancy, classic, expensive, etc. When he sees the price is affordable, even better.
Why will this work? Despite the common wisdom among craft beer lovers that Budweiser is an inferior product, that doesn’t matter to Average Joe Sixpack. When a low-quality product is sold in an attractive looking package, consumers are more likely to believe the product itself is better. This is why Snooki tries so hard.
However, taking this a step further is a bit more worrisome for craft beer evangelists. Not only does better packaging mean a consumer thinks the product is ideal for purchase, it also positively biases someone’s evaluation of taste in a low quality product. Thus is born the “All that Glitters is Gold Effect.” Even a crappy beer may not be so bad after all.
Some of this can already be seen in AB InBev’s latest push for Bud Light Platinum, which hired Justin Timberlake as its creative director. Aside from all the ladies wanting him and the men wanting to be him, Timberlake has a socially accepted reputation of a classy yet down-to-earth guy. A perfect way to shill a beer from a multi-national company. Packaging, image and the product aren’t seen as mutually exclusive. It’s difficult for consumers to separate what’s lousy if it looks pretty. Like the hot Mean Girl from high school who treats everyone like crap but all the boys still long for her.
Ultimately, deviating appearances (that bow tie shape) attract attention. When something’s different, it piques interest. This was previously tested on wine bottles, which showed that the more effort put into a label to make it pretty or flashy, the more it correlated to the purchasing power on young consumers, the exact people AB InBev would love to steal from craft beer.
So what do we do now? Wait and see.
Bud’s bow tie cans go live on May 6 and if there has been any indication from its roll out of Platinum or Black Crown, we can anticipate a strong push. Platinum already owns roughly 1 percent of the beer market and while there aren’t easily obtainable Black Crown statistics, we can assume that brew will also see strong sales in its first year.
All we can do is stick to our craft beer guns and know that sales are still strong, even if there is some worry in the craft beer community for what that means. I’ve always been a regular, old necktie guy myself, anyway.
For another take on the ‘bow tie’ can, check out this post at Beer and Whiskey Brothers.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac