Fifteen years ago, Dean launched the “chug” bottle, a plastic reimagining of the traditional milk carton. They spent millions on its advertising, but the gamble paid off. Sales jumped ~65% in a year. And Dean milk became differentiated from any plain old milk on the shelf.
Structural branding, or identity by shape alone, is one of the brass rings of consumer product design. And now Budweiser is making a run at a Dean or Coca Cola bottle of its own. Bud’s announced a bow-tie can, an aluminum container that crinkles by just 10 degrees in the middle, to marry its can shape with its existing bow-tie logo.
“Honestly, our brand needs more design to it. We have brown bottles and aluminum cans,” Pat McGauley, VP of Innovation at Anheuser-Busch confesses to Co.Design. “Obviously, Coca Cola built their iconic shape over many many years. We’ve had this bow-tie icon, but we haven’t been able to shape the aluminum until now. It’s quite an opportunity for the Budweiser brand.”
It’s quite an opportunity at quite an expense. Many have speculated that Budweiser is just pulling a fast one on us all, as this new 11.3-ounce can actually holds .7 ounces less than the typical 12-ounce can. But truth be told, the new can uses twice the aluminum than your standard can, which we’re told is more than enough to “far offset” any savings from the beer. Plus, Budweiser will be selling the bow ties in a unique, eight-can SKU that, ounce per ounce, will be priced in near-parallel with your 12-ounce sixers and 12 packs. So even though unit costs have gone up, sale price per ounce of beer will remain consistent.
The can itself has been in development since 2010, driven by a manufacturing breakthrough by Belvac. Given the structural tolerances of aluminum, the design process was a back and forth between design idealism and mass-produced feasibility.
“I think, like every invention and innovation, we had a lot of trials and tribulations. It was splitting and not shaping properly,” McGauley explains. “So it does have twice the aluminum in it, but we like that a lot. It feels sturdy and high quality. And the shape of the bow tie fits nicely in your hand.
Which just goes to show, Anheuser-Busch anticipates big, long-term gains out of differentiating Budweiser packaging. Because if consumers respond well to the new cans, we’re told that they could “absolutely” become the new brand standard.