Last month MillerCoors unveiled the latest redesign of its Miller Lite bottle, giving it a narrower "waist" and broad "shoulders" to make it more distinctive in bars and restaurants. Around the same time, Heineken announced a new bottle of its own: The short neck that had long been associated with the brand will be lengthened, bringing it more in line with industry-standard bottle designs. (It also has an "embossed thumb groove that improves grip.")
These were relatively minor tweaks, but they're consistent with a common marketing philosophy in the beer industry: If you can't change what's on the inside of the bottle, why not change the bottle itself?
We've seen several redesigns that are zanier than Miller and Heinken's subtle changes: high-tech labels, strangely shaped bottles and cans, gimmicky add-ons and even the occasional functional tweak that changes the way you drink. Here are some of the packaging gimmicks and redesigns that beer companies have used to induce people to buy their brews.
When we first heard about this one, we hoped it was a can that could be repurposed as an actual bowtie when you were finished drinking it. That, at least, would be functional. But it turns out that this is just a design tweak to the can that makes it vaguely bowtie-shaped as a way of paying tribute to the bowtie-like Budweiser logo.Budweiser's Bowtie Can
The downside? As Time points out, the new can design actually holds slightly less beer than the standard 12-ounce can, so you're getting less Bud for your buck.
The company that brought you the keg can is going high-tech.Heineken's "Ignite" Bottle
Earlier this year Heineken unveiled a prototype bottle that it's touting as a "smart beer bottle." The "Ignite" bottle lights up when you "toast" by tapping it against someone else's bottle. It also lights up when you take a swig. And it can be remotely activated by special DJ equipment to make it strobe in tune with the club's music.
The bottle kicked off with a limited run of 200 bottles at the Milan Design Fair. And it will probably be limited to special events of that sort, as we're guessing the technology is a bit too expensive to roll out on a mass-market basis.
Here's another one that you're probably not going to find at the convenience store, but as gimmicks go it's pretty nifty.Beck's Playable Beer Bottle
To promote its new record label, Beck's took one of its beer bottles and etched it with grooves to make it capable of being played like a record. It's effectively taken the cylindrical portion of the bottle and transformed it into one of the cylinders used in the early phonograph invented by Thomas Edison. Beck's managed to etch one bottle with music from New Zealand group Ghost Wave.
Given what went into making the musical bottle, and the fact that most people no longer have phonographs in their homes, this looks like a one-and-done project. Still, it's great marketing.
Here's a gimmick that we'd love to see catch on. Around Christmastime, Stiegl Beer replaced its usual beer label with a little pocket containing a free public transit ticket. The idea was to discourage drunk driving around the holidays by giving revelers a way to get home without getting behind the wheel.Train Pass Bottle
This one would also be costly to implement on a mass scale without some kind of public funding. But we love the idea of transforming a label into something beyond mere marketing.
Bud Light: The Write-On Label
This novelty label had a little space where you could write a short message or draw a small picture by applying pressure with a key or fingernail. In one TV commercial, a couple of guys write their apartment number on several bottles and then hand them out as party invitations to the women in their building. Another suggestion -- using the bottle to give someone your phone number. Beats writing it down on a bar napkin.
Coors Light: The Cold-Activated Can
Coors Light has built a strong brand around temperature, repeatedly emphasizing the fact that its beers are brewed cold.
Of course, every beer will come out of the fridge or the ice chest cold, but that hasn't stopped MillerCoors from running ads with frozen bullet trains and insisting that the beer is "frost-brewed."
So it was probably inevitable that the "we're so cold" branding would extend to the containers.
Its "cold activated" cans and bottles have mountains that turn blue when the get cold enough. A follow-up gimmick touted "two stage cold activation," with temperature-activated stripes indicating when your beer is "cold" and when it's "super cold."
Miller Lite: The Vortex Bottle
Introduced in 2010, the vortex bottle has grooves inside the neck to alter the way the beer pours.
But no one is entirely sure what the grooves are supposed to accomplish. The Miller Lite website only says that the bottle "lets the great pilsner taste flow right out." But that's a vague statement: Does it mean that the taste is enhanced by the grooves? Or are they simply saying that the beer flows more quickly?
Both theories have been put forward, though nothing's been settled. But another recent Miller Lite innovation, the punch-top can, adds credibility to the idea that Miller Lite is going after drinkers who want to chug their beer as fast as possible.
The keg can is exactly what it sounds like: A can that looks like a tiny beer keg. We have to admit, it is sort of cute. But let's be honest: What people really love about kegs is that they're a cost-effective way to buy a bunch of beer for a party -- not that they're cute and squat little things.Heineken Keg Can
Another keg-related innovation from Heineken was the Draught Keg, a miniature keg that can fit in your fridge and has a tiny, extendable spout. This is an actual keg, not a keg-shaped can, though it still isn't as cost-effective as a real keg. However,a review of the keg by TechCrunch notes that it produces way too much foam.
Sly Fox's Removable-Lid Can
Cans are increasingly popular in the craft brew scene, but some beer drinkers don't like drinking out of the little aluminum mouths. Some enterprising brewers are therefore trying to re-invent the can for the discerning drinker; Samuel Adams, for instance, will soon introduce the "Sam Can," which boasts a "flared lid and wider top" for better beer delivery.
Sly Fox, though, is going another route: It's getting rid of the lid altogether. The "360 Lid" is fully removable, essentially turning the can into a small, metal pint glass. That, as the company notes, means that the drinker gets the full aroma when he or she takes a drink.
Photo: Sly Fox Beer Facebook
There was a time when beer cans didn't have a tab -- the top was just flat metal, and to get at the beer inside you need to punch a hole with a churchkey. It wasn't exactly convenient, and the design quickly went out of style as soon as someone got around to inventing the modern beer can. But one small brewery is building its entire business around the gimmick of resurrecting the flat-top can.
Churchkey makes just one beer, a pilsner, and packages it in the flat top can; you can get a free churchkey with every six-pack, or just use a key or other sharp implement to open the brew.
Why would you drink a beer whose only defining feature is that it's hard to open?
"It's worth the effort: The harder it is to achieve your goal the greater the satisfaction," declares the website.
Photo: Jamesonf, Flickr.com
The beverage involved here isn't beer, and the packaging isn't exactly a gimmick, but it's cool enough that we included it anyway.Zipz Wine "Glass"
If you think about it, beer lovers have it made -- their beverage of choice comes in a portable, capped and sturdy package that's easy to bring to a picnic or order at a ballgame.
By contrast, wine lovers have to bring a bottle of wine, some breakable glasses and corkscrew when they're going on a picnic. If they're ordering wine at a ballgame, it's served in a little plastic cup, which might feel a bit too college for a discerning oenophile.
Enter Zipz, which is basically the beer can translated to wine. The wine and glass come in one package: A wine-glass shaped plastic container with a single serving of wine inside. You unwrap it, peel off the lid and enjoy just like any glass of wine. The design makes so much sense that six professional baseball stadiums now serve them at games.
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Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.