Cat Sketch Fever Infects Once-Boring Beer Brand

The idea: Lionshead is a beer brand that had been around since 1980 and its dated graphics and packaging reflected its age. Known as a cheap brew among East Coast collegiate types, Lionshead and its blue collar brother brand, Stegmaier, had never been huge priorities for the Lion Brewery, which was known more for producing beers for other companies. “The beer is very good, quite drinkable, but the packaging was just sort of old and worn out,” said Ron Hammond, CEO of The Lion Brewery in Wilkes Barre, Pa., which he and a partner bought about a year ago. “We wanted to have some fun with Lionshead—not take it too seriously. We don’t have the money to compete with the Coors and Anheuser-Buschs of the world. We wanted to make it cool and aspirational [for college students], like, ‘This is ours, of our generation.'”

Challenges: The client wanted to cut material costs. Design firm Little Big Brands, Nyack, N.Y., found a way to use this to the brand’s benefit. Excess labeling was pared back to promote eco-friendliness and to achieve a more expensive craft beer aesthetic. The redesigned label was moved down, which gave the stock bottle the illusion of a more upscale brew.

How it was created: Quirky touches such as puzzles under the cap and paw prints where fingers grab six-packs gave the brand some of the cat’s personality. So did some taglines that run on the label, such as “Light Beers Ahead” and the college crowd pleaser: “Best Head in Town.” [Designers] “Pam and John marched a bunch of twentysomethings in the office and gave them some slogans,” Hammond said. “Sometimes you can’t fight city hall.”

The results: The first shipments are arriving in New York and the redesign has also attracted a number of distributors in New Jersey since Lionshead has a following among students who vacation on the shore. The conversation with distributors “is a whole new discussion,” Hammond said. “People are coming after us now. It used to be a hard sell. If success is getting into a market you couldn’t get in before, then we’ve been very successful.” Lionshead has also appeared on a recent episode of NBC’s The Office. “We’re the local brewery,” Hammond said of the Scranton-based show, noting that “the bottle had to be eye-catching—if you were quick, you would have seen our new look.”