Coke, Budweiser and brand heritage

This image, which contrasts packages from the early 20th and early 21st centuries, clearly shows how far Coke and Budweiser have evolved the package design of their core brands in essentially the last 100 years. As you can see, Budweiser not so much, Coke a fair bit. It is fascinating to observe the obvious similarities of these images, but it is the differences, and how they evolved, that are the most interesting to discuss.

BudnCoke OldnNewI talked about package design innovation last week to a group of marketing and packaging executives. In discussing innovation it is always worth looking back for some historic analogies and I chose to demonstrate the change that has, or hasn’t, taken place with several major brands including Coke and Budweiser.

Let’s start with why this matters, beyond being an interesting design exercise. In two words, market capitalization. As the Interbrand 2008 rating of brand value suggests, these brands are very valuable. And if these numbers have any truth to them, and I know some in our industry say they don’t, these brands also represent a very significant portion of their company’s value.  

Anheuser Busch’s purchase price in July of 2008 was about $52 billion, and Interbrand says the value of its Budweiser brand last year stood at $11.5 billion, or about a bit more than 20% of the market value of the whole company.

The Coca Cola figures are even more interesting. Coke’s brand value is estimated to be $66.6 billion while the current market cap of the whole company now stands at about $102 billion. Meaning the brand value is essentially 2/3rds of the market cap of the entire company. That’s a lot of value!

Which brings us to the design of their icon packages.

Obviously the Bud package has essentially remained the same, both from a structural standpoint with the 12-Ounce long neck bottle shape, and the graphics standpoint, with elements that stem from traditional 19th century design complexity.

Yet three changes are evident, the color of the glass, the size and weight of the brand logotype, and the incorporation of a larger label size with more red color equity. The thinking must be something like this. Let’s not mess with our core brand in a category that thrives on heritage. Let our other products like Bud Light fool around with change. The Clydesdales need to be comfortable hauling this stuff around, don’t mess with those big guys.

Now the Coke package is a bit more interesting because the amount of change has been so significant yet controlled. Soft drinks are after all very different from beer. Change is mandatory, yet Coke has done a really great job of modulating their message between heritage, trust and the need to stay current. With the new package they have chosen to use a state of the art aluminum bottle but to retain the iconic hobble skirt shape. The contemporary tone comes from the simple trick of scale, blowing up the script letterform and wrapping it around the bottle. There is still instant recognition even at this scale. You know you have reached icon status when you trust that even if a consumer sees only 20% of your logotype, and really any 20%, they will still recognize your brand across the aisle.

Finally of course, the red color has become an icon of each brand, and it is interesting to see how the two beverages have approached the use of the color red on the package. For Budweiser, like most things they do, it is a story of gradualism. Modestly increasing the use of the color over time. For Coke, on this package at least, it has become the fundamental brand anchor that frames one of the most memorable pieces of typography in the world. And it is this bold, simple, direct red and white communication, at once so 19th century and yet so clearly 21st century, that is the strength of this most recent package.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
This entry was posted in Beverages, Design Criticism, Design Practice, Packages Today, Packages Yesterday and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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