Brewers Hope Consumers Will Judge a Beer By Its Cover

Marketers Tap Into Package Innovation -- Home Draft, Anyone? -- to Outshine the Competition

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It used to be that beer came in a glass, can, bottle, or keg. End of discussion. Today it seems as if the packaging gets almost as much attention as the liquid itself, if not more. Special cans turn color when the beer is cold. Some bottles are funky too, with one brand featuring a special vortex neck meant to improve taste. Don't want a keg? Try a "home draft" that fits in your fridge.

What the big brewers call innovations some call gimmicks, and they are hitting the market so often that one small brewer decided to poke a little fun. Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado is pouring its slim ad budget into a local campaign that touts a "proprietary cold test ," which consists of the head brewer touching a bottle of Summerbright Ale and deadpanning: "It's cold." Another spot plugs Avalanche Ale's "gravity-activated pouring" bottles: "When you tip it, beer goes straight in your mouth. When you tip it back, the beer stops flowing."

Jokes aside, the fact is packaging changes usually work, bringing attention to big brands that are battling economic headwinds and new competition from upstart craft brewers, said one expert. "When your brands are trending down several years running and craft brewers are getting all the talk and attention, you turn to package innovations -- or what some would call gimmicks -- to generate excitement in the trade and with drinkers," said Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily. "Anything to break through the clutter. It usually works, particularly if the innovation reflects back on the brand's core message."

Indeed, brewers often make the packaging the focus of ads, like Heineken USA, which today rolls out a TV spot to promote its "tactile" can, featuring special raised ink. Meantime, Michelob Ultra is stuffing golf balls into packs of beer in a Father's Day promotion. With so much on the market, Ad Age decided to take a closer look.

Cold Activation

Pioneered by Coors and Coors Light and later copied by Busch Light, special ink on bottles and cans turns a special color when the beer is sufficiently cold.

Why It Works: It's hard to argue with sales numbers: Coors Light continues to gain share pushing its "cold refreshment" message.

Why It Doesn't: As Breckenridge says, whatever happened to simply touching the can?

Vortex Bottles

Special Miller Lite bottles come with swirling grooves in the neck, meant to improve taste.

Why It Works: Supposedly unlocks flavors and aromas in the beer by aerating as it pours, building on Lite's longtime "taste" positioning.

Why It Doesn't: Some are calling it B.S., like beer aficionado website, which says "you're drinking straight out of the bottle, so you'd obviously miss any aroma."

Aluminum Pints/Bottles

Miller Lite pints have resealable screw caps. Not to be outdone, Bud Light this year introduced aluminum bottles (the caps are not resealable) including one with an NFL Draft theme.

Why It Works: Take a sip. Reseal. Take a sip. Reseal. You can't do that with cans or bottle caps.

Why It Doesn't: Ask Coors Light, which temporarily discontinued its pints, citing taste and supply issues.

Writable Bottles

"My Bud Light" cans let drinkers write messages using a key or coin.

Why It Works: Haven't you always wanted to hit on someone at a bar by writing on their bottle?

Why It Doesn't: Haven't you always wanted to get thrown out of a bar for hitting on someone by writing on their bottle?

Chalice Can

Anheuser-Busch's Stella Artois is out with a new 14.9 oz can that shows a picture of its iconic chalice on front.

Why It Works: While it's still a normal-shaped can, the chalice image emphasizes the brand's premium positioning.

Why It Doesn't: It's still just a can. If you want the glass, get it in the glass.

Tactile Cans

Heineken cans feature raised ink that it says adds texture, "creating the visual impression of condensation on the outside."

Why It Works: Think Braille for beer. If the lights go out, you can tell what brand you are drinking.

Why It Doesn't: The hell with fake condensation, give me the real thing.

Flavor-Lock Crowns

Special bottle caps on Budweiser meant to keep oxygen out of the beer, preserving fresh taste.

Why It Works: A collector's item? Some guy's trying to sell 100 of them on eBay for $7.

Why It Doesn't: Seven dollars divided by 100 is still only 7 cents a cap.


Keystone Light emulates the "cornhole" game, with special cases where a hole can be cut out to toss in bags of beef jerky.

Why It Works: The tie-in with Jack Links plays off the below-premium brand's common-man appeal.

Why It Doesn't: Midwesterners might know what cornhole is , the rest of the country, perhaps not so much.

Home Draft

More from MillerCoors: 5.7 liters of draft beer that comes with its own CO2 regulation system, meant to fit in the fridge.

Why It Works: Enjoy the taste of draft beer from home. And it stays fresh for 30 days!

Why It Doesn't: Ever tried doing a keg stand inside your refrigerator?

Variety Packs

Just like it sounds, multiple beer styles in one pack. Especially popular with craft beers, which thrive on new taste experiences.

Why It Works: In the craft segment, variety pack sales grew 35% in the first four months of the year, according to SymphonyIRI.

Why It Doesn't: What are you, indecisive? Pick a style and stick to it.

Golfer's Ultimate 6-Pack

Limited-edition Michelob Ultra package comes with a sleeve of Bridgestone golf balls.

Why It Works: It's the perfect Father's Day gift.

Why It Doesn't: Isn't Dad worth at least a 12-pack?

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