Bad Packaging Design: Lessons From the Beer Aisle

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It’s safe to say I’m a pretentious, annoying beer snob craft beer aficionado.  I keep several varieties on hand at all times – just in case someone stops by! – and I regularly experiment with different breweries and styles.

Bad Packaging Design – Example One

So it’s not unusual that I recently found myself in the smallish (but well-curated) beer aisle of my local Whole Foods. On this day, they were featuring the Four in Hand Winter Brew. The two side panels of the six-pack looked like this:

Huh.  All that real estate, and not a word about what the beer tastes like.  Or even what style it is.  Is it a brown ale?  A porter?  Roasty?  Malty?  Spicy?  Sweet?  I removed a bottle from the carton, hoping to find a clue, but there was no information there either.

Ultimately, it was a Whole Foods employee who closed the sale, by creating and displaying the following sign:

It reads, “A hearty brew for the winter.  Hoppy and Malty with a touch of orange zest, plus spicy notes.” Thank you! Now I know!

If not for this sign, I would have had no reason to buy the Winter Brew.  Which is to say their package design – the only interaction I’d had with this product up to that point – was not sufficient to close the sale. And that’s its primary objective.

Bad Packaging Design – Example Two

Sixpoint Craft Ales fared even worse.  Here are the front facings of two of their beers:

Sixpoint tells you only the name of the beer.  There’s no information on flavor profile, or even the style. Whatever you know (or don’t know) about Sixpoint before arriving at the shelf, you’ll know nothing more after closely studying the package.

Sixpoint packages 4 cans of beer in a cube-like cardboard outer.  Here’s how they waste a side panel of valuable real estate on their Diesel beer:

Wow, what evocative prose. But, I still must ask, what the hell are you selling? Maybe the top panel will tell me something…

Nope. Totally wasted on an oversized logomark. With no information with which to make a decision, I don’t purchase any Sixpoint, and I won’t until they give me a reason to do so. (To quote Jerry Maguire: “Help me help you!”)

The Lessons

Most importantly, intelligent brand design needs to be rooted in consumer needs.  What’s the information s/he needs to make a purchase decision?  How can you make that information as easy as possible to find?

I don’t know what they’re thinking at Sixpoint. But this is exactly the kind of package design you’d create if you thought branding was all about the visuals – about the pictures, the symbols, the colors, etc. And, when employed properly, those things have tremendous value.

But in these examples, they’ve been used to the exclusion of critical selling information. Which is to say they have negativevalue.  Sixpoint and Four in Hand, your brand is being damaged by its own design.

Brand design is an extremely powerful asset. But it should never be a question of “Do we ‘brand,’ or do we sell?” The best design solutions do both.

Consider your brand design through this lens, and don’t settle for anything less from your agency partners – or yourself.

What examples do you have of brands that successfully balance competing design objectives (or that completely screw things up)?  Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2013 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.