Part of the romance of the craft beer movement is the individuality these new brewers are bringing to a marketplace that’s been dominated by big brewers. So it has surprised many that craft brewers as of late have embraced a beverage package that used to be associated with the mass market, and uniformity: the aluminum can.
But thanks to improved graphics, and new production techniques, the can has become a canvas for craft brewers, and other beverage marketers, looking to convey what is special about their brands. “Printing cans used to be like printing with a potato. But now they can basically do photographic process on a soda can which looks amazing. That’s something’s that happened in the last five years and I think it’s become more accessible,” says McLean Design founder and creative director Ian McLean.
“It’s interesting,” adds Jay Billings, vice president, innovation, Ball Metal Beverage Packaging Division, Americas, “we worked for 50 years to develop can technology to ensure that every can looked exactly the same in a given can run with quality systems that have been developed and perfected to take any level of variability out of our manufacturing process. However, consumers’ interest and desire for a sense of discovery is not served by that as well as options that provide variability.”
So in recent years Ball has come out with technologies like Dynamark, which allows for variability in graphics on cans in a way that historically has been impossible. Dynamark allows beverage marketers to do up to 12 different designs during a single can run, suddenly turning what had been the humdrum experience of pulling out a can of beer or soda from a multipack, into one of discovery and excitement. “For marketers, it gives them a larger platform on which to message and more options to express their message in new and different ways,” Billings says.
While Dynamark hasn’t been used in the U.S. yet, it generated a lot of attention last year when Coke used it for its Share A Coke promotion in Australia and Western Europe where the individual names of consumers were written on cans of Coke.
Another technology Ball now offers is called Eyeris, which provides beverage marketers access to higher definition can graphics. “It allows you to do more technically-difficult designs on cans,” Billings says. “We see this used quite a bit in the craft beer space in order to draw attention to different craft beers. That’s part of the DNA of craft beers and craft brewing, to do labels that are a little bit different than traditional beer or soft drink labels.”
And then there are thermochromic inks, which allow a measure of interactivity between the cans and the consumers. Popular uses of this technology have been to show when the liquid inside the can is cold enough to drink, such as with Coors Light cans where the mountains turn blue, or the Coke 16 ounce cans in the convenience channel where the ice cubes also turn blue when the can is chilled to optimal drinking temperature.
In the past couple of years another capability, the use of tactile finishes on cans, really has proven popular with more and more beverage marketers. Ball began offering tactile inks on its cans in 2011, and since then Monster Energy drinks famously have begun using them, as well as Miller Lite’s football cans, as has Heineken on a number of different cans.
Another can company, Crown, also offers several novel ways consumers can use the can. For instance, April of last year saw the launch of Helles Golden Lager by Sly Fox Brewing Co. in Crown’s 360 End can in North America. The entire lid of the beverage can is removable, turning it into a drinking vessel. The can’s innovative design is meant to ensure that the full flavor and aroma of the beer hits the drinker’s senses. While Helles is the only brand using the 360 End as its standard format, Sly Fox’s flagship Pikeland Pils label incorporated the 360 End for an exclusive promotion at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, in the spring and summer. “The 360 End eliminates the need for separate glassware and makes the can an even more appealing package for outdoor activities,” says Neill Mitchell, vice president, marketing and strategic development, Crown Beverage Packaging North America.
Crown also rolled out its new Vented End beverage cans in exclusive partnership with Molson Coors Canada. The vented end, featured on Coors Light and Molson Canadian labels, is meant to allow for a smoother pour and an enhanced experience for consumers. It features a dual-aperture opening, meaning it has two holes rather than the one hole found on traditional can ends. The end’s unique design includes a distinctive red tab and a button-shape depression mark to the right of the main opening. To use, consumers simply open the can as usual, turn the red tab so that it is aligned over the button, and then press down to activate the second opening. No extra tools are required to open the end.
“The Vented End not only enhances the appeal of the package but also helps build brand identity by more closely connecting consumers with their beverage,” says Mitchell.
Crown also recently introduced its Laser-Etched Tabs (LET) technology to customers in the United States and Canada for the first time. Designed to provide beverage brands with a new way to engage consumers and build brand loyalty, Crown says LETs are ideal for special promotions and contests. Using a different technology than what’s available to Crown customers in Europe, this proprietary process uses focused lasers to remove the top coating of the tab in the desired design, revealing a clear coating underneath the tab.
Jade Alger, an art director who’s branded various beverages, also points out that over the past decade, the industry has seen a huge push toward variety in beverage can sizes. “Every time a consumer encounters a brand, it’s a multi-sensory experience and a slim can or mini can for example, has potential to effectively promote visual and ergonomic appeal,” he says.
Alger also mentions how high-profile brands like Budweiser and Samuel Adams are helping to redefine how an ergonomic beverage can looks and feels. “Budweiser’s peculiar crimped can shape and the hourglass ridges of the Samuel Adams can are just a few examples of how the territory is rapidly changing,” he says.
However, while the toy box is getting bigger for brand marketers looking to embrace the can, experts warn to be selective about how these newfound capabilities are uitilized. “Ultimately, the company is telling their brand story,” says Alger. “Whether this is developed through an integrated marketing team or a brand agency, it has to be well thought out and consistent. Designers and marketers have the job of taking everything into account—from the consumer’s first glance to the last sip. There’s no reason to add a re-closable lid or temp-activated inks to a can design unless it upholds the brand story.”
He adds, “I see it as a two-way communication between the brand and the consumer, with all other facets of the industry supporting that communication.”