What goes into giving a major marketer like Budweiser a top-to-bottom makeover of its core product? The entirety of the beer behemoth's visual identity—packaging, logo, typography and more—recently got a face-lift from design firm Jones Knowles Ritchie, which has been tinkering with it since December 2013 and gave Adweek an exclusive look.
Though it's the 13th redesign in the brand's history, it's the first time Bud has used the same packaging worldwide—until now only 80 percent of its product has looked the same. The AB-InBev-owned brewer quietly rolled out the new look in September and hopes to complete the rollout by mid-February, focusing on the brand's crest and font instead of its iconic bow tie. (The firm also revamped Bud Light's packaging which will be on shelves in April.)
Such an undertaking, especially for a brand of Budweiser's size, is no small feat; all told it cost the brand in the tens of millions (Budweiser declined to specify). But why go through all the trouble of hiring a design firm, shutting down brewers to change over packaging printing plates and upgrading all in-store materials?
"Our entire brand positioning is all around showing how much we care about the beer, that we're 'Brewed the Hard Way,'" explained Brian Perkins, vp of marketing, Budweiser North America. "We looked at the packaging we had and said to ourselves, 'Can we honestly say the level of detail, care and attention on this packaging reflects the level of care, detail and attention that goes into the beer? No.'"
Enter Jones Knowles Ritchie. A team of nearly 30 was tasked with creating a look and feel that would accurately represent not only the work that goes into the beer's brewing process but also could visually convey the brand's 140-year legacy.
"Even though it's an iconic beer, the iconography at that time didn't represent the heritage of the beer," said Tosh Hall, creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie. "[Now] it's an amalgamation of the best parts of the last 140 years of Budweiser."
The brand's new look combines the most memorable parts of Budweiser's legacy—the bow tie, distinct red coloring, the classic script—while also working to reduce clutter that had come to take up real estate on its packaging. It's meant to feel fresh and contemporary while also harkening back to the brand's past, according to Hall, who ventured to Budweiser's St. Louis headquarters to examine its archives, pulling inspiration from the brand's original packaging.
Of course, Budweiser is also looking to attract consumers' attention at a time when more and more craft brewers are crowding the shelves; according to Brewers Association data, the production of American craft beer rose 16 percent in the first six months of 2015 compared to the same time the prior year.
"[The] new design is driven by two contextual trends that affect their business: the rise of craft beer and better living through quality ingredients," said Min Lew, partner and creative director of branding firm Base Design. "The design does answer both of these challenges by stripping down the design to the visual essentials, emphasizing their crest and creed—all with a fresh aesthetic."
Wally Krantz, executive creative director at branding consultant Landor Associates, agreed: "Whenever you see something like this, it allows marketers to take a pause and look at your own brand and ask, 'Is what we're doing [with our design] right?'"
Perkins dispelled any notion that craft-beer growth spurred Budweiser's actions. "This was not a responsive move; this was the move of a leader," he said. Indeed, Budweiser's Q3 2015 sales rose 11.5 percent over Q3 2014.
Of course, that Budweiser, which has a 7 percent market share in the U.S., decided to revamp its look isn't surprising (the brand's last major makeover was in 2011). Given all the new brands surrounding it in the beer aisle, its brand perception with consumers had been dropping, according to a 2013 report from market research firm Affinnova.
"They kind of lost their way with the advent of the computer," said Hall. "The last hundred years, there were artisans, typographers, art directors, letterers … and everything [design-wise] was done by hand. When the computer came in … a lot of [the brand's design] had been digitized over the years and became like a photocopy of a photocopy, and kind of crunchy and sad."
This revamp, which Perkins sees as a way to contemporize the brand's identity, is meant to recreate the brand's architecture and iconography in a way that Budweiser can deploy in "interesting and modern ways." An example of that can be seen in the brand's aluminum bottles, which prominently displayed Lady Liberty (see above) last summer.
Still, the new aesthetic is also a test on the largest scale possible. Budweiser's revamp will go through its seven global hubs: the U.S., U.K., Canada, Brazil, China, Russia and Ukraine.
Rest assured, one thing that won't disappear from Bud labels is its famous creed.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.