Ready to start your Friday happy hour a little early? You’re in luck! This Friday I have a particularly fun Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market preview to share with you. Read on to find out how San Francisco microbrewery 21st Amendment Brewery worked with tbd Advertising to create beer cans that are as cool as the brews they contain.
The complete feature by Luke McLaughlin, will be published in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market. To get the complete story, purchase a copy of the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market (available in late October 2013) or subscribe to ArtistsMarketOnline.com.
Keep creating and good luck!
Packaging Design: Taking the Lid off the Craft Beer Can Revolution with tbd Advertising and 21st Amendment Brewery, by Luke McLaughlin
Until recently, beer in a can meant average lager from one of the big breweries. In the last few years, American craft brewers have started canning their beer, and some were not content with traditional front-and-back label style product packaging. Since 2003, Paul Evers President and Chief Creative Director of Bend Oregon based tbd Advertising has been helping craft brewers restage their brands with fresh new packaging designs and a hands-on approach to creating a brand identity that reflects the independence of smaller breweries and helps them to stand out in the marketplace.
When Shaun O’Sullivan and Nicco Freccia, co-founders of 21st Amendment brewery in San Francisco came to tbd looking for new designs for their craft beer cans, Evers wanted to hear their whole story. In addition to being the Co-Founder, Brewmaster, and Media Relations man for the brewery, O’Sullivan is a storyteller. After telling how he wanted to be a pilot, started a career in photography, and worked for CNN, O’Sullivan describes finding out about homebrewing beer while working as a paralegal for a corporate law firm in Los Angeles: “A buddy of mine that I was working with at this firm was a homebrewer and I was kind of blown away by it.”
O’Sullivan decided to can 21st Amendment’s beer after seeing the brewing and beer canning line at Oskar Blues, a Colorado brewery outside of Denver. They had just started to can their beer when O’Sullivan came to visit while attending the Great American Beer Festival. He explains, “I saw their system and I said ‘this is the future of craft beer.’” He describes it as being struck by lightning, and he came back to Freccia and 21st Amendment energized and excited about craft beer in cans. He remembers telling Freccia, “‘This is what we’ve got to do; we’ve got to put our beer in cans.’ I explained to him all of the reasons why it’s great. They are recyclable, you can take them places you can’t take bottles, it’s better for the beer because no light can penetrate the can, there are energy savings with shipping cans, and you can put more cans on a pallet than you can glass bottles. It’s more sound for the environment in a lot of ways and also for the beer.”
The 21st Amendment name and the imagery on their packaging comes from the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that repealed prohibition and allowed alcohol sales again. “There were probably seventy-five brewing companies before prohibition,” O’Sullivan explains, talking about the historic breweries that once existed in San Francisco. They decided to choose a name linking their brewery with this tradition that had lapsed during much of the twentieth century. He recalls, “It dawned on us that we were dabbling right around the 21st Amendment, the name and we got stuck on it. It seemed to make a lot of sense; it was responsible for everything that goes on in the U.S. in terms of the return of alcohol, basically, to brewing, to the whole culture, overturning what was called the failed experiment of 18th amendment, the prohibition amendment.”
With the help of tbd, 21st Amendment is able to communicate their story and the spirit of their brewery through their packaging design. “The cans are designed by some friends of ours in Bend Oregon,” says O’Sullivan, “and the illustrator who does a lot of the artwork for the cans is Joe Wilson who lives in England. Our beer is made in Minnesota, and our ingredients come from all over the world, so our beer is kind of a global beer that is centered here in the U.S.”
Paul Evers, describes his role as President and Chief Creative Director of tbd as being like the director of a movie or a coach. Evers explains, “The key players are the creative team and the account management team. The account management team provides the strategic platform and the thinking there. The creative team is the group that goes out and explores possibilities. My biggest job is to build on what they develop and encourage innovative and new thinking, but they are the ones who do all of the heavy lifting.” He is a hands-on director, however, having started the company in his home. His guiding philosophy for the agency was to never come into a job with predetermined ideas about what to design, so he named it tbd, short for to be determined.
Telling Stories With Design
In 21st Amendment, the team at tbd saw a company based on the ideas of independence and storytelling. Evers explains, “The 21st amendment brand platform is all about celebrating the right to be original. There is already and inherent sort of rebelliousness in the craft beer industry as a whole, and 21st amendment brewery really embodies that. So I think that that is sort of a key thing that tends to resonate with consumers.” Evers says that craft beer fans are always looking for something new. He explains, “The craft consumer is a consumer that is interested in experimentation, exploration and innovation. Craft consumers are not exclusively loyal to one style of beer or brewery. There is just so much variety out there. They are looking for that sense of adventure. That really lends well to storytelling.” For 21st Amendment, the creative team tries to create stories for each beer that fit in with the brand platform.
Developing a New Packaging Concept
According to Evers, tbd uses different techniques to tell stories for the different lines that 21st Amendment produces. He explains, “We have the main line, where we are doing storytelling primarily through an idea that is articulated in an illustration. We are drawing connections from the style of the beer to the beer name to the brewery and its brand platform.” These designs are big and graphic without much text on the can. He continues, “Then there is the insurrection series, which gives us an opportunity for a much deeper level of storytelling. We feature Shaun and Nicco as characters in the story. Typically what we are doing is tapping into an aspect of real history combined with some really fun fable and representation of the characters of Shaun and Nicco and what the brewery is all about.”
But Evers says that it is key when coming up with a new design to always start with the basics. He describes some of the questions they consider: “What is the description of the beer? What are the key ingredients and the concept behind the beer? Why are they looking to produce that specific style? All the way down to the fundamentals, projected ABV and IBU.” Listing the ABV, or alcohol by volume, is required by law. IBU is a measure of bitterness from the hops used to flavor and preserve the beer, and including it on the label can help consumers choose beer they will like.
Designing for Cans
To design the cans for 21st Amendment, tbd decided to throw away the traditional concept of a front and a back of the can. “Conventional thinking is that the front label is earmarked for the name and some sort of icon that represents the beer and the back label is for the government warning, the UPC code, all the facts about the beer,” explains Evers. He continues, “We decided to blend all of that together to create more of a unified sense of what this beer is about. So the can, because you are printing on the entire surface, gives you an opportunity to go three-hundred-and-sixty degrees and utilize the whole can in an integrated way.” This means that the illustration looks bigger and bolder on the shelf and helps 21st Amendment cans to stand out.
Evers attributes the success of tbd in working with the craft beer industry to hard work and research. He notes, “Every opportunity that we have been given has been an opportunity to get smarter and improve ourselves and to apply our best. There has been no entitlement. We have had to work really hard to refine our approach.” He says that in order to design packaging and a branding for a company, the team tries to immerse itself in the company. He explains, “We actually go and spend time at the brewery and have conversations with the principles, those who are in leadership positions, who really define the core values and what the culture is all about at the respective breweries. Our main job is not to invent anything; our main job is to get to understand the brewery so that we can effectively represent the spirit of the brewery through packaging and branding.”
Evers feels that tbd shares a common bond with the craft beer community. He explains,“It was established in a similar way and with a similar drive to buck conventions and go about things differently. It wasn’t about where the biggest margin was, it wasn’t about mass production, it was about doing something that you felt good about, solving a real problem, and delivering something that meant something to people.”
Luke McLaughlin is an American writer based in Oxford, England. In addition to writing about art and music, he designs independent games and music apps.