Red Stripe - Jamaican Lager

December 8th, 2011
The concept of designing an iconic package—a package that, in its essence, becomes a signature part of the overall brand—has become something of a holy grail for brand managers and package designers these days. It’s fair to say that most decades-old packages were not designed with the goal of becoming beloved icons. The stories of their origins many times sound like beautiful accidents: the bottle took on its shape so it would be more sturdy and stable on the production line, or it got its graphic treatment from some whimsy of the company’s founder. It just happened that their design, not to mention the taste of the product inside them, hit a nerve with the public. That spark grew over time into loyalty, and even nostalgia. While each story of how they got there is unique, there are a few things these packages have in common that have elevated them to a point where the they have become the brand, or at least a very big part of it. h2. 1 They’re simple. Iconic packages steer away from the ornate and opt for strong, simple shapes and graphics. “Packages nowadays are so often over the top; they pull all the tricks they can to sell products,” says Andy Gutowski, partner and creative director at packaging design firm Object 9 in Baton Rouge, La. “But the really iconic packages, like Coke or Campbell’s, stand out for their distinctiveness and simplicity.” h2. 2 They use bold, basic colors. Gutowski points out that many of the traditional iconic packages have something quite coincidental in common. “A lot of them are white and red!” he says. Red and white isn’t the only winning color combination, of course, but the packages that stand out in consumers’ minds tend to be ones that adopt a simple, contrasting color palette that doesn’t introduce too many accent colors or competing elements. That a consumer can recall without thinking twice that the Kraft macaroni and cheese box is blue and yellow, the Q-tips dispenser blue and white, the Tide bottle orange and yellow means the core colors work together successfully to trigger consumers’ memories. h2. 3 They dare to be different. Package design is a tough balance. On one hand, a brand doesn’t want to stand out too much—basic sameness in package design within a category is safe and puts competing products on the same level. But iconic packages are ones that “had the courage to step away from category cues,” says Rob Wallace, managing partner at Wallace Church, a New York-based brand identity and packaging design firm. With some slight but meaningful change, these packages gain an edge by becoming even more memorable and distinctive at the shelf. h2. 4 They know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. In other words, stewards of the brands are confident enough in the package that they don’t react to the winds—or, as in the case of many package designs, light breezes—of change. Recognizing when they have a sure thing on their hands, the brand managers have protected the package’s core design over the years, refusing to veer from their course in the face of fads and competition. They acknowledge when a light refresh or cleanup of the package architecture is necessary to keep a brand relevant and easy to shop, but they do the work to keep the emotional integrity of the iconic package intact. “Consumers can often draw from heart what a package looks like, but what they remember about it and how they feel about it can be two different things,” says Wallace. Deciding what and how much to change can be tricky, but in the end consumers must be left with the impression that they’re still buying their beloved product in its familiar old package, even if the package has been modernized and made more accessible. h2. 5 They contain exceptional products. A package’s design can hit a home run, but if consumers don’t love and have emotional connections with the food or beverage inside it, the chemistry rarely works. “When you have a simple, distinctive package with a great product, you have a winner,” says Gutowski. h2. Red Stripe: American consumers might not realize it, but Red Stripe beer has been around nearly as long as some of the most venerable U.S. brands—but it’s only been sold in the United States since the 1970s. The premier beer in Jamaica since the early 20th century, Red Stripe has now become recognized worldwide as the import in the stubby brown bottle—a memorable distinction that sets it apart from its peers. !/system/artwork/0000/0257/Red_Stripe.jpg!: The Jamaican beer company began sourcing its bottle manufacturing from a company in Canada in 1972. At that time, most Canadian beers used the “stubby” bottles, wide-body bottles with short necks, which is how Red Stripe adopted the form. From a production standpoint, the bottle was ideal. “It has a low center of gravity,” says Grace Silvera, Red Stripe’s international marketing director. “The bottle does not topple on the production line, has better stability and allows the production line to run faster.” The company also discovered added benefits of the stubby bottle. “The bottle’s shape is such that it takes less space on the delivery units and in refrigerators, and when chilled, it retains the temperature longer.” Silvera says that the beer grew in popularity and recognition as more travelers began vacationing in Jamaica and discovered the product and its unique bottle, and that a large Jamaican expatriate population in the United States also helped to implant the beer in American culture. But a major part of the beer’s advantage in its new U.S. home has been its highly recognizable, iconic bottle, which Silvera says embodies Jamaican culture. “The Red Stripe packaging is striking in its simplicity,” she says. “It’s underdesigned, simple graphics reinforce the authenticity of the Jamaican provenance and signifies one of the brand’s core values—being real.” The no-frills bottle is understated and unique, allowing the beer to speak for itself. And the shape of it and bold, simple graphics mean it stands out from the rest, whether in the grocery store or in a bar. Red Stripe several years ago refreshed the graphics on its bottles sold in the Jamaican market; Jamaican consumers who have lived with the brand for nearly 90 years were hungry for an update. But the classic Red Stripe bottle remains the same as always in the U.S. market. Consumer research has shown that the brand appeals to independent-minded U.S. customers who like products that are “the anecdote to commercialization,” Silvera says. “They are looking for things tried and true.” * Click Here for More Information On Red Stripe: Gordon, Stacey King. (2007) Isn't It Iconic? Brand Packaging Magazine. Retrieved July 17, 2008, from