Bud Light is getting a new look -- but the nation's largest brew won't be abandoning its familiar blue as part its most significant packaging overhaul in eight years.
Indeed, blue is the dominant color in the new design, which includes several shades of the color and will hit the market this spring. The color red -- which has been present in some form since Bud Light debuted in 1982 -- has been eliminated. Also gone is the C-shaped, swoosh-like design element that has been on packaging in various forms for most of the past decade.
Bud Light is also making a concerted effort to dial up references to its brewing credentials, while more closely linking the brand with owner Anheuser-Busch.
An "AB" crest and creed prominently appears above the Bud Light name, which will be shown in bold, block all-white lettering. So-called "romance language" scrolls beneath the brand name, declaring the beer to be "always brewed using the choicest hops, best barley malt, and rice." The AB crest was a prominent feature on the original Bud Light can and remained present until disappearing after 2001. (See the slideshow at bottom.)
"We tried to find inspiration in our roots," but bring the design to life in a "modern, forward-looking way," said Alexander Lambrecht, VP-marketing for Bud Light. Through design analysis -- which began in early 2015 -- the brewer found that "the AB brewing credentials, the AB creed -- that is screaming high-quality beer," he added.
The new packaging, which will hit the market in the late March/early April timeframe, comes at a critical time for the brand as it tries to reverse slumping sales trends. Bud Light still dominates the beer category with 17.5% shipment share as of the end of last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. But sales to retailers fell "low single digits" in the first nine months of 2015, "with some share loss" in the light beer segment, the brewer recently reported.
The comeback plan includes a new campaign that will debut no later than Super Bowl Sunday by Wieden & Kennedy, New York, which won the brand in July from BBDO. The new design will be shown in the campaign, which is expected to use celebrities. The new ads will spell the end of the nearly two-year-old, millennial-focused "The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens" campaign in favor of an approach targeting a broader age group, as Ad Age reported earlier this year.
Jorn Socquet, U.S. VP-marketing for A-B InBev, inherited the "Perfect Beer" campaign when he took over the role in early 2014. The new campaign and design overhaul mark the first major moves on Bud Light and will play a big role in how Mr. Socquet is ultimately judged. In an October interview he suggested that Bud Light has been "trying too hard" to appeal to young adult drinkers. "Bud Light as a brand appeals to everybody. And everybody who is young at heart should be attracted to Bud Light, not just [young adults]," he said.
Mr Lambrecht said that while the "Whatever" campaign was a lot about experiences, in the new campaign, "we are going to be dialing up the role that humor is going to play."
Overhauling such a large brand is a massive undertaking: More than 20,000 Bud Lights are sold every minute, according to the brewer. The redesign will require new graphics on beer truck facings, signage at bars and big stadiums, as well as glassware updates and more. "We are everywhere and we are talking about tens and tens of millions of points of connections," Mr Lambrecht said.
Agencies working on the packaging overhaul include W&K and global design agency Jones Knowles Ritchie.
While some beer brands such as Miller Lite have downplayed blue in favor of more white in recent design changes, Bud Light never considered ditching its blue, Mr. Lambrecht said. Blue began taking on a prominent role in the design beginning in the early 2000s, while red -- once a prominent color -- was gradually downplayed.
"Bud Light equals blue. Blue equals refreshment. Bud Light is the most refreshing beer out there," Mr. Lambrecht said. It was "never up for discussion the role that blue was going to play."
Still, Bud Light is changing the way it communicates refreshment. The new cans and bottles will no longer carry wording stating "Smooth & Refreshing." Also, a design element that is made to look like droplets of water near the logo has been axed in the new packaging. Asked about those changes, Mr. Lambrecht said, "showing it is more important than telling it." He made an analogy: "If I want people to think I am funny, I am not going to say 'I am funny.' I am going to tell a joke."
Here, a look at Bud Light's design evolution: