Drinking beer is serious business… okay…. maybe not thaaaat serious. But when your company isn’t slinging the suds like it used to, something has to give. For Cameron’s Brewing it was all about the branding. When president Bill Coleman went looking for an agency to relaunch Cameron’s product line back in 2015, he says he needed one that really understood and loved craft beer. It’s a high wire act, transitioning your loyal customers to a new look, and at the same time opening the door for new consumers. Cameron’s packaging was very traditional – maroon and gold, blue and gold – it looked like it was from a different era. Bill had his eye on rebranding since joining the company in 2010, and by late 2015 he knew it was urgent. Steadily declining sales had turned this rebrand into a “go big or go home” moment.
Agencies pitched for the business and Cactus Design, based in Toronto, was the winner. Ian Fleming lead the process of the rebrand and redesign. “It was our first foray into the craft beer market – and it was a fantastic experience”…. and it was an experience. There was so much to consider. Cameron’s was a legacy craft brewer and had been around since the 1990’s. But the market had hundreds of new players with sharp new branding and packaging. They had to differentiate the brand on a store shelf packed with craft beer. Should they lean on their experience and legacy as one of Ontario’s original craft breweries? Should they talk about the brewing process and ingredients? How about image and lifestyle? There were more practical considerations too – graphic design, colour palate, the way the can actually looks in your hand. There was also a deadline. They needed the design work completed in time to get product on the shelf for the spring 2016 market so they had to work quickly.
Ian and the team at Cactus had taken Bill Coleman’s words to heart. As Ian says ” We talked about inclusive graphics & colours, that would appeal to young, old, male & female, the challenge was how to do it all.” He says the team “…picked different people in our own lives and asked – would this appeal to them?” They settled on two elements that would turn out to be pivotal – playfulness and story-telling. They brain-stormed ideas for new names and, with tongue in cheek, came up with Ambear Red Ale, Cosmic Cream Ale and Captain’s Log Lager. Yes, they’re a bit goofy, but they allowed stories to be spun around the names. Have a look at the Ambear Ale can.
There’s a bit of a yarn, some information about the ingredients, and it comes together with a brief description of what Ambear Red Ale will actually taste like. Not bad for 50 words total. And the colours, did you notice the colours? We’ll come back to that in a minute.
Once they’d settled on the names and the descriptions, they had to run it all by the lawyers – last thing you want to do is roll 100,00 printed cans off the assembly line only to find out the name is already owned by someone else. Then there’s the matter of the actual “real estate” – the space on the can to get your message out. It’s an unconventional product to design for – it’s not like a big glossy ad in a magazine. Ian says they were shooting for a graphic look that was simple and easy to recognize. They went through 10 different versions. “We didn’t want to be old fashioned – but at the same time it couldn’t be too modern.” Ah yes, caught between a design that wouldn’t confuse their loyal drinkers, but would say “hey, we’re back!”
Now to those colours… turquoise, avocado, burnt orange, sea foam, with accents of lemon and silver. To my eye it is retro and modern all at once…who can forget the avocado kitchen appliances from the 70’s or a sea foam shower curtain from the 60’s…well clearly I can’t. And yet you can see hints of those retro colours sprinkled across contemporary design from paint chips, to cars, to furniture. Sea Foam is the new black!
In any case, what both Ian and Bill Coleman were looking for were colours that popped on the shelf, that left no doubt whose beer you were dropping into your basket at the Beer Store or the LCBO. I kinda think they nailed it. There were also financial considerations with the colour selection. Printing cans is not an inexpensive thing – every colour you add costs money. To keep the price down you are really limited to 4 or 5 colours. Then there’s the Cameron’s dude – the guy with his arm around the wheat sheaf on the front of the can. Bill Coleman says they tried a few versions of the design without the Cameron’s guy – but decided to keep him there – a nod to tradition in the midst of a massive remake.
So now, the answer to the question I know you’ve been dying to ask….did it work? Short answer – yes. Long answer – better than they could have hoped for! It’s been almost exactly a year since the rebranded and redesigned cans hit the shelves. Cameron’s sales are up 300 per cent year over year….so yes, you could say it worked.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this process is something Cameron’s and Cactus Design didn’t do – consumer testing. Conventional marketing wisdom is that when you’re making a change this substantial you focus group the heck out of it. Bill Coleman says they went with their gut. “Too much consumer testing can actually hurt the design, round off the corners, mute the direction. The riskier you are, the better the chance your consumers will find it risky too – in a good way.”
Risky in a good way – I like that.