ST. LOUIS -- Since 1961, when Michelob first appeared in bottles, Anheuser-Busch here has used its packaging to build the image of the superpremium beer.
This year, as the brand turns 100, new graphics featuring a commemorative seal will visually celebrate its history with consumers.
"The 100th anniversary is an important event," says John Marota, director of retail creative services. "We wanted to make a special note to consumers. It's also an opportunity to reposition the brand, make it a little more upscale and separate it from Michelob Light," he adds.
Marota describes the 100th anniversary packaging, designed by Andrea Williams, a designer at TDC, The Design Company, San Francisco, as a "quality statement about the product." The softer, quieter design and colors were selected to stand out on the shelf from the crisp photographic images currently used in the premium category.
In creating the anniversary seal for the packaging, Williams wanted to create a symbol that had the feel of money. A gold background supports it and picks up Michelob's signature color, while fine slanted lines project a richness that wouldn't be possible with a flat color, according to Richard Owens, TDC president. Adding to the image is a quality statement and the signature of Adolphus Busch, the company founder.
During 1996, bottles, cans and multipack carriers for Michelob will feature the 100th anniversary graphics. The logo also is prominently featured on on- and off-premises point-of-sale materials, point-of-purchase displays and promotional merchandise.
The anniversary logo is compatible with and will be featured with the special golf course and Currier & Ives scenes used for this year's Great Golf Giveaway and holiday packaging, respectively.
The anniversary packaging is the latest iteration of a classic. Although the superpremium beer was available only on draft until 1961, chances are when most people think of Michelob, the image that comes to mind is its distinctive bottle.
The shape was a conscious decision and the product of a yearlong design effort by Jerome Gould & Associates, Los Angeles. Gould's goal was to quickly communicate the Michelob name and quality image in low-light, on-premises settings at a time when all beer bottles looked basically the same and were differentiated by their labels. Other distinguishing features included the gold neck label, which required a new and radically different labeling process, and the Michelob red ribbon.
When it debuted, it was described this way: "Physically the bottle balances for easy pouring or drinking. Its contours have been designed for a comfortable grip by a large masculine hand or a small feminine one. The weight is distributed to the stemmed base to resist inadvertent tipping."
Carol Kelleher, senior brand manager of the Michelob family, says, "No other bottle in the beer industry and few packages in the entire consumer products industry is so instantly recognizable or more closely linked to a brand's heritage and appeal. It is an icon, one that consumers and retailers truly appreciate and value."
Over the years, the bottle profile has evolved to more of a teardrop shape to accommodate ever faster filling speeds. Graphics have changed, too, but the gold neck label and red ribbon remain.
"It shows structure can carry a powerful message of brand identity," says Marota.
Other members of the Michelob family feature packaging and graphics designed to appeal to their target audiences. Michelob Amber Bock and the new Michelob Centennial Special Brew are positioned for occasional microbrew drinkers and packaged in bottles with upscale labels.
In the bottled draft category, faceted bottles and cans provide a contemporary adult image for Michelob Golden Draft and Michelob Golden Draft Light. "Here again, we wanted a structure that could carry some of the identity," says Marota.
As Michelob begins its second hundred years, the use of packaging as a brand-building tool will continue.
"Identities are constantly being examined to maintain relevance to target audiences," says Marota. "Package design is the vocabulary we use to establish our strategy and identity."