Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Beers

Two very different types of beer packaging for the same kind of beer customer: who will take the win?

First up: Rialto Premium Lager

Very designed, vintage appeal, strong Mayan iconography.  This design is by Stranger & Stranger, a design firm that specializes in packaging for wine, beer, and spirits.  They say "San Salvador is known for its Mayan Temples and sun worship."

Well, it's pretty.  If I were a Corona drinker looking for something fancy, I'd probably pick this up.  So far, reviews haven't been great, but at least you'd have something fun to bring to a party.

Next up: Black Label Beer and Red Label Beer from Bavarian Brewing

Also well-designed, and has strong vintage appeal.  It also seems a lot more masculine at first blush—much more rough and tumble. I can't locate where I found this one, but it seems like a straightforward design with mass appeal. I could see my grandpa drinking this; I could also see a dude in a plaid shirt with beat-up Nike dunks drinking it.

When I first sat down to write this, what I was going to say is that these beers are both designed for a younger, affluent, design-conscious male consumer. I was going to declare Bavarian Brewing's beers the winner, based on how I think both designs will be received. But now, I don't know.

The artistic, illustrative nature of the Rialto packaging could really appeal to a female audience, so while this might not be a win for the dudes, it could be for the ladies. But was that Stranger & Stranger's intent? I don't know. I know it's my own gender bias, but I'd design beer packaging with men in mind. I can't call this a win unless I know who they were designing it for, and that's what makes this one so interesting. It's unclear who they thought their audience was. And maybe that's the issue—it's a little cloudy from start to finish.


  1. I'll riff on the Rialto beer for now, because there are a couple of interesting things going on. I may come back to the Bavarian Brewing after some digging, but for now, all I can do is say it reminds me of this interesting design experiment.

    On the gender-appeal issue of the packaging, I think you're pretty close to the mark. The packaging isn't designed specifically to appeal to men. (like, say some beer labels) It does seem to be a bit more gender neutral, aimed at both men & women. In fact, it's quite reminiscent of Blue Moon's design. As a brand, Blue Moon has been quite successful with both genders without resorting to overt appeals to either.

    And Blue Moon itself brings me to my second observation: Rialto is brewed by "Cerveceria La Constancia S.A."; I'm sure that's the only brewery information listed on the bottle. The label suggests it's imported from El Salvador. But a quick bit of digging shows that Cervecerina La Constancia is actually a wholly owned subsidiary of Miller brewing company. (technically, it's a subsidiary of the holding company that owns Miller brewing, but I digress)

    It's always a red flag to me, as a consumer, when a product appears to be imported or locally produced, handcrafted or produced in small batches or limited runs, but is in fact mass-produced at a mutli-national level. Keeping the "Miller" name (and by association, it's brand) off this beer is very telling. I won't go as far as to say it's "false" or "deceptive", but it does seem a bit misleading. Unfortunately, there are a lot of beers owned and marketed in this same way.

  2. The "younger, affluent, design-conscious male consumer" tends to lean one of two ways these days: they've either settled into a European gender-neutral bohemian aesthetic (esp. Europeans, theatergoers, the fashion-conscious) or they've appropriated the blue-collar male aesthetic as a kitsch thing (like a lot of New York hipsters and fine art / liberal arts graduates).

    I think these beers reflect that split... but I think, strategically, it's going to work better for the Bavarian beer. The gender-neutral, conspicuously affluent, fashion-design aesthetic has waned recently, and the ones who still exist aren't that likely to go for beer. The pseudo-blue-collar hipster thing, on the other hand, is going strong, and beer is often their after-hours and party drink of choice.