Beavertown beers

Craft Beer Brings Art Back to Labels

Old Methods Use Modern Techniques in Labelling and Branding

Craft ales are a British institution. Yet behind the old fashioned values are 21st century marketing techniques to reach out to today’s drinkers.

Traditional ale is as quintessentially English as cricket on the village green or fish and chips on Southend sea front. But nothing remains popular forever if it fails to move with the times, and the recent craft ale boom provides a perfect demonstration of how modern marketing methods and some subtle twists can ensure that a traditional product with a rich heritage can remain relevant to a modern audience.

The popularity of the ever increasing range of modern craft beers is not purely down to the more ambitious range of flavours that are designed to appeal to discerning modern palates. A look along the shelves shows that label printers are now producing dramatic, artistic packaging that is a far cry from the traditional beer labels of years gone by.

Targeted marketing

A snazzy, bespoke label with an almost “home made” look is fitting for a product that is produced by a small, independent manufacturer using traditional methods. But despite the cottage industry feel, there are some sound business reasons behind the approach.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University have spent plenty of time examining the effect of labelling on sales, and found that distinctive labels are more important than shelf space when it comes to catching the eye of the consumer.

Another factor is demographics. Today’s craft ale drinkers are not just bearded baby boomer CAMRA members. Millennials of both sexes are embracing craft beers, and the labels are all part of the appeal.

Art for art’s sake?

The artistic side of beer labelling is not just about what you see on the bottles, cans and pump clips. It has prompted a whole following and almost a new subculture in the art world, with books and blogs dedicated to the subject.

A Leeds bookshop even held an exhibition dedicated to beer art back in May. Organiser Becky Palfery remarked: “We wanted to see if, removed from the bottle and put in a frame, the artwork would stand alone.”

A new dynamic for beer labelling?

Perhaps the most interesting question is how the major breweries will react to the phenomenon. Major players like Carlsberg Tetley and Greene King spend thousands on carefully designing their packaging and logos according to long and expensive consultation processes. Yet here are these tiny independents blowing them out of the water and transforming the market with their artistic designs.

Nick Dwyer is Creative Director at Beavertown, a craft brewery in fashionable Haggerston, North London. He says that the major breweries are “fascinated to the point of confusion,” by the aesthetics of today’s craft ales.  Meanwhile, beer writer Matthew Curtis memorably described attempts by the big players to tap into this market with artistic labels of their own as: “Like your weird uncle trying to dance to Taylor Swift at a wedding.”

Style and substance

Ultimately, consumers might try a beer once because it has a funky label, but they will only go back to it again if it tastes good. Anyone suggesting that modern beer is a triumph of style over substance has clearly not tried the merchandise. In getting both aspects right, today’s micro brewers have ensured the modern craft beer industry is in a very healthy place.