21st Amendment kicks out some pretty awesome beers, from Brew Free or Die, to Sneak Attack, to Hell or High Watermelon and beyond. Recently their sales of “Bitter American” were dropping, so they changed the name to “Down to Earth Session IPA”, changed up the packaging and kept the monkey. On our most recent podcast of “Tapp’d In”, you can listen to a disagreement between myself and Bellingham’s Beer Disciple, Steve DeMoney, on our opinions of the effectiveness and purpose of marketing vs. beer quality. Where and how does marketing negatively impact craft beer sales? Can good marketing get bad beer sold? Is that good or bad?
People weren’t reaching for the “Bitter American” beer.
The beer itself—actually, a lower-alcohol pale ale known as a session ale—wasn’t the problem; that style of brew is a favorite in the booming craft-beer market. Rather, the company behind Bitter American, 21st Amendment Brewery, decided a new package and a new name might help their IPA win over the finicky craft-beer crowd.
In early April, the Bay Area brewer launched Bitter American’s replacement, called Down to Earth, another lower-alcohol IPA with a more citrusy flavor and aroma. The bigger change was on the outside of the can: The chimpanzee floating in dark space on the outside of the Bitter American can was now, on the Down to Earth can, pictured in a colorful tropical locale.
Since the change, sales of Down to Earth to retailers, including grocery stores and bars, are triple what Bitter American sold in all of 2014.
Breweries are amping up their package designs to get noticed by consumers perusing the expanding array of quirky brews that line store shelves.
With the massive increase in craft breweries in the US in 2014, craft breweries are taking all sorts of steps to remain on tap and on shelves. In this blogger’s opinion, remaining on the shelves with over 5,000 different craft beers, 3,500 breweries and 2,000 breweries in planning requires not just good beer, but great marketing.
Packaging for Bitter American, selected back when it debuted in 2011, wasn’t doing the product any favors. The can’s blue hues with a chimpanzee stranded in space and the use of the word “Bitter” made consumers think it was a heavy beer. “We felt we needed to make the package speak to what the beer really was,” says 21st Amendment’s other co-founder, Nico Freccia.
“We looked at it pretty objectively. What are the assets and what are the liabilities of this package?” says Paul Evers, head of 21st Amendment’s branding agency, called tbd agency and based in Bend, Ore.
The Down to Earth package replaced the dark skies of outer space with a bright-turquoise sky and ocean. Ham is smaller on the new can, lounging in a hammock on a sandy beach and sporting a full-toothed grin. On the Bitter American can, much of the space is taken up with Ham’s head, his mouth open but not smiling, and spacesuit.
The package designers say they chose orange stripes for the hammock because people associate orange with refreshment and citrus, a nod to the beer’s citrusy hops. The beer’s description changed from “session ale” and “extra pale ale” to “session IPA,” and “India pale ale,” because craft beer lovers understand an IPA doesn’t have to be a high-alcohol beer, Mr. Evers says.
Designers and beer-makers say a successful package helps tell the story behind both a brewery and a particular beer. The can or bottle has the feel of an artistic one-off; but when it is stocked on a shelf with its sister beers, they call can “hang together and establish a billboard effect for the brand,” says designer Joe Duffy of Duffy & Partners, a Minneapolis design firm that has designed bottles for Summit Brewing Co., with skyline, bridge, and lake illustrations tying it to the St. Paul region.