No Logo

The blackboard at the Drapers.

One of the many interesting things about our local, The Drapers Arms micropub in Bristol, is the lack of branding for beers at the point of sale.

Instead of the customary row of hand-pumps with decorative pump-clips (which have grown bigger and fancier over the course of the past few decades) the Drapers has a rack of casks with beer names chalked on their black jackets, and a blackboard declaring the name, brewery, origin, style and ABV of each beer.

The pump-clips are there, actually, tacked on the wall behind the bar, along with those for beers coming soon, but a determined squint and spectacle push is required to discern any details. Most people, we suspect, think they’re just part of the decor.

The blackboard approach encourages certain unusual, quite pleasing behaviour. For one thing, people often ask each other for advice: “Excuse me — what’s that you’re on? It looks bloody good.” And we’ve never known a pub where tasters are so freely offered and  as gladly taken, and where such generous time is given to conversations about taste and preference.

Which brings us to our main point: the lack of obvious branding seems to push people — and certainly forces us — to focus on the beer.

We’ve always been quite open about the fact that, being human beings with a full suite of emotions, nurtured in late 20th century capitalist society, we are easily swayed by packaging and marketing. Of course we challenge ourselves and attempt to overcome this instinct to superficiality but if we’d seen this pump-clip, for example, we might have let our gaze pass over it in favour of something else:

Ramsbury Belapur pump-clip
SOURCE: Ramsbury Website.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t suggest that this beer is anything special. It’s a bit cheap and a bit staid. But at The Drapers, a level playing field for the graphically challenged brewery, we went for it, and were really glad we did. It’s a thoroughly decent beer we’ve had several times since, and Ramsbury have been added to our mental list of breweries always worth a go.

On the flipside, there are beers that, divorced from very smart graphic design and winning blurb, are easier to assess objectively. In plain brown wrappers it’s easier to discern that a slightly bland pale ale from a hip brewery taste much like a slightly bland pale ale from a micro-brewery founded in 1983.

We generally argue for more information rather than less (see tomorrow’s blog post) but somehow the omission of this particular type of information — the visual — really works for us.

The Big Session Comeback Tour

Beer mat from the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, Nuremberg.

We haven’t taken part in the session for a couple of years, mostly because we found ourselves struggling to fit in an opportunity to, e.g., drink a particular type of beer before it rolled around.

Anyway, it’s time to get back in the saddle so here we are again to talk about the art of beer labels, caps and coasters, for this month’s session hosted by HopHeadSaid.

We have a particular interest in commercial design and illustration and when it relates to beer, all the better. We’ve posted about it on more than one occasion and have been really enjoying this excellent blog about beer branding recently.

The image above is one of our favourite bits of beer-related design and, perhaps not so coincidentally, comes from one of our favourite breweries.

What’s not to like? There’s sans serif typography (we have some sympathy with the Helvetica nerds), a simple colour scheme reflecting the flag of Franconia and an equally simple graphic. All of this reminds us vividly of their pub in Nuremberg and their beers, all of which are also simple, unpretentious and clean.

You’ll note that the image above is a bit rough. It needed some restoration because this beermat, along with a stack of others from Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, lives in our kitchen and gets used every day. It’s a little bit of Nuremberg we can enjoy every day. As a result, it is covered in beer stains.

Mind you, that Satan cap art isn’t bad either, and nor are the twin labels for the Brooklyn/Schneider collaborations.

Branding tips for small breweries

A mocked up label for Rocherfort 10 using Comic Sans.
What if Rochefort 10 didn't have a tasteful, simply designed label?

It’s easy to laugh at and criticise breweries with bad branding (really easy) but we thought it was time we actually tried to be helpful.

So, here are some tips which might lead to a series of more detailed posts later in the year.

1. Use a professional design agency. If you think you can’t afford to, then look again at your budgets. If it increases your sales, it’s a good investment.

But, if the budgets just won’t stretch, and you really must do your design work yourself…

2. Keep it simple. The less fuss, the less can go wrong. It might look plain or even a bit boring, but that’s better than cheap, crappy or careless. You can always rebrand later and utilitarian chic can certainly work in its own right: Kernel have this nailed.

3. Be consistent. It will help your loyal customers spot your products if the clips or labels share certain characteristics. For example, Penguin books’ vintage covers were designed on a grid which gave a lot of room for manouevre as well as ease of recognition for consumers. The easiest option is to use the same layout and font but perhaps change one colour. Chimay is a good example of this principle in action in the world of beer — three beers with basically the same label.

4. Never use clip art or images stolen from the internet. Its cheap, but unfortunately also looks cheap. In fact, unless you can pay a professional illustrator (and we don’t mean the frustrated watercolourist who works in your warehouse, or your brother who does some graffiti) it’s best to avoid illustrations altogether.

5. Three fonts to avoid: Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans. Everyone knows these fonts because they are used to death, and professional designers don’t like them much. Almost everyone in their right mind really hates Comic Sans. If you can’t afford to license a commercial font — they are expensive — try to pick something clear and classy. (This might come in handy and there are some good tips here.)

6. Before you start designing anything, think about your brand values. Here’s a very simplified process for working out what those are:

– Sit down with some colleagues, friends or family
– think about other companies (not necessarily breweries) that you identify with
– look at examples of their printed material, websites and products and
– write down the values those suggest to you. (E.g. green, caring, traditional, brave, family-friendly…)
– Then look at those values (it should be a long list) and think about which also apply to your company.

Refer to that list when designing your labels, clips and other branded materials: if your company is, say, progressive and experimental, you probably don’t want a oil-painting of an Owl on your labels.

7. You don’t necessarily need a logo. Logos really are the domain of the professional designer because they’re so easy to get wrong (see here and here). If you must have one, then consider that many of the classiest logos are really just the company name written in a tasteful font and then reproduced, as a graphic, in exactly the same dimensions ever after. (More on this.)

8. Choose colours carefully. Black, white and maybe one other colour is usually enough. Amateur design is plagued by rainbows and often looks like the contents of a packet of Smarties. Think about contrast: the best option is usually a light colour on a dark backgrounds or vice versa. Don’t use ‘fluorescent’ pink, especially on a red background…

9. Two fonts is enough — one for titles or logos, and one for body text.

10. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even a small typo can send the message that you are sloppy and careless. Avoid exclamation marks, too: they will make you look hysterical.

Our credentials: none, really, other than that Bailey has worked in marketing and communications for a few years and takes a professional interest in branding and design.

Balsamic and bulldog clips

We spotted a couple of interesting posts on Lifehacker the other week which we thought we’d share.

First up, the news that people prefer Budweiser with a drop of balsamic vinegar in, but only if they don’t know it’s there. This is another fascinating example of the influence branding and packaging — the blurb surrounding a beer — can have on our perception of its taste. It also makes us want to try adding balsamic vinegar to other crappy beers to see if it might actually improve them.

Secondly, and less excitingly, bulldog clips might be one solution to the problem of beer bottles steadfastly refusing to stack in the fridge the way they do on TV. Bulldog clips are the answer to so many of life’s problems…

Pubco sets up pretend freehouses

UK pub company Mitchells and Butlers are apparently planning to open a series of unique “concept bars”. They’ll be part of a chain but designed to look like they’re independent.

The UK pub chain company owns, among others, O’Neill’s, Scream Pubs and All Bar One, but has clearly recognised (as we’ve pointed out before) that big companies and boringly ubiquitous brands are going out of fashion. They’re not going away, though — just into hiding.

Interesting to see how this business model works out. Our bet is that one of the bars will do better than the others and then turn into a chain…

Via Marketing magazine/Brand Republic.

Nice branding can make things taste better

Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
Nicely branded Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale

We’ve always felt slightly guilty about how easily we are influenced by the packaging and presentation of our beer. This week, however, a friend tipped us off to a piece of research from 2004 which suggests we’re not being entirely irrational.

The experiment showed that people actually had a stronger pleasurable reaction to a soft drink when they were cued up to expect one brand or another, and presented with packaging.

Test subjects were given Coke and Pepsi without being told which brand was which. These drinks are chemically almost identical, as Samuel McClure points out. With no branding to refer to, the subjects showed about the same degree of “neural response” in the “ventromedial prefrontal cortex” in both cases. Then, when they were told which brand was which (when they were “brand cued”) they not only stated a preference for one over the other, but actually, measurably enjoyed it more.

So, maybe when we get all excited by the nice label on a bottle of beer, and the pretty glass it’s served in, and the quality of the head on the beer — stuff that shouldn’t really matter, but does to us — we have a similar chemical-electrical reaction?

We’re not scientists. If anyone would like to correct or elaborate on our primitive understanding of what this research means, go for it!

Sales of (mostly terrible) beer down

According to advertising trade mag Marketing Week, sales of the top beer brands are down 5 per cent up to April 2008.

The biggest drops are in sales of Kronenbourg 1664, Stella Artois, Carlsberg Export and Grolsch. Sales of John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Carlsberg (ordinary) are up.

Their say that the current ‘drink-aware climate’ and England’s absence from the European Championship are the main reasons.

The first certainly sounds plausible to us. People we know seem to be much happier ordering a shandy or a ‘weak beer’ than they were a couple of years ago.

And, of course, there’s been a huge defection to cider from beer, as witnessed by booming sales of Strongbow.

Marketing beer to geeks

The latest issue of WiredWired magazine has several full page advertisements for upmarket beer in its current issue, including Michelob’s range of fancy beers (maerzen, wheat, pale ale and porter).

This, coupled with their recent coverage of the hop shortage, suggests that the marketing men, at least, perceive a link between geekiness and the appreciation of beers other than American light lagers.

The Michelob ad is interesting. It talks about the particular malts used (with pictures) and explains how they’re responsible for the colour and flavour of the beer. In other words, they announce that beer, just like computers, music, TV, film and collecting plastic action figures, is something you can be geeky about.

They’re not advertising to beer geeks — they’re trying to create new ones loyal to their brand.

Wetherspoons suffer from smoking ban?

Marketing magazine has a good piece this week on the fortunes of the Wetherspoons pub chain. Their sales have dropped 13 per cent to £28.5m in the six months to the end of January, apparently.

They’re blaming the smoking ban and rising energy costs — some of those barn-like pubs are costly to heat, it seems. The article also suggests that the smoking ban has hit them because poorer people smoke more, and are more likely to drink at Wetherspoons because it’s cheap.

Marketing mag then goes on to ask to brand experts to advise on how the chain can turn around its fortunes. Mike Taylor of Monkey Communications hits the nail on the head:

Wetherspoon is now a vernacular for a certain type of pub. Definitely not a bad pub, but maybe not one for “people like me”.

Dave Clements of McCann Erickson is a bit less astute in his comments:

[Wetherspoons] championing of real ale may warrant an award, but it has hardly increased footfall. It may have attracted a mid-market audience, but it is exactly those people who can’t imagine enjoying a pint without a cigarette.

Eh!? That’s certainly not true in our experience. In fact, like your wine snobs, real ale types tend to be rightly sniffy about anything that interferes with their appreciation of the flavour of the beer.

Maybe we’re being hopeful, but surely the downturn in Wetherspoons fortunes has something to do with another story in the same issue of the magazine — Tesco Finest (the supermarket’s “premium brand”) has just become the UK’s biggest grocery brand with sales of 1.2bn. People — even people without wads of cash — are getting a little but fussier these days.

Beer Glasses

SAHM’s tradition gobletWilson’s comment on the beer glass we used for the photo of our blackberry wheat beer yesterday got me thinking: is everyone else as weird about beer glasses as us?

We’ve got boxes of different glasses stacked around the house. The idea is that we’ve got the right style of glass, in the right size, for almost anything that gets chucked at us. In a lot of cases, we’ve even got glasses with the right branding.

I think, as a bare minimum, you need:

  1. Two half-pint stem glasses — for sharing 500ml bottles.
  2. A straight-sided pint glass.
  3. A “goblet” for Belgian beer.
  4. A tall wheat beer glass.
  5. A half-litre “krug” for drinking German stuff.
  6. A litre stein for drinking German stuff in the summer…

Optional extras would be a tiny US pint glass; a koelsch glass; a tall “pils” flute… I could go on.

Of course, like a lot of people, I have a favourite glass that I use more than all the others. Mine’s a nice, sturdy, straight-sided pint glass from the George Inn, Middlezoy, Somerset, which honours the Queen’s Golden Jubilee with an inscription in Comic Sans. Ha.

So, who else is fussy about their glassware? And if so, do you know where I can get a Marston’s glass…?