Expert analysis that helps your team make better branding decisions and build a more resilient business.
Let’s discuss the Anchor Brewing Rebrand Controversy
The iconic Anchor Brewing recently launched a stark rebrand that was met with fervent backlash. The public response was so loud and universally negative that Anchor Brewing actually made a public post addressing the “controversy.”
We’re hesitant to ever critique another agency’s work publicly because we weren’t involved in the project. So we don’t understand the behind the scenes strategy, brief and goals (let alone the approval process the agency had to contend with along the way). And beyond this, I don’t want to be another asshole throwing bombs at the people in the arena.
And in this particular case, I actually love the brewery in question. Anchor Brewing was one of the first 3 or 4 craft breweries I experienced that sent me down the very path that lead me to working with breweries every single day.
This being said, we’ve had about 20 people send this story to us for comment and opinion over the last week (including many folks who are subscribed to this very newsletter).
So in the spirit of constructive criticism, here’re some initial reactions as well as some important lessons that other breweries, legacy or not, can think about if they’re considering a rebrand.
ON STRATEGY & GOALS
We don’t have access to the project brief and behind the scenes strategy. However, after rebranding a few dozen breweries, we do see a similar set of goals that they typically want to accomplish through this process. I’d put money on Anchor focusing on the following:
– We want to breathe new life into the brand and reach a younger audience
– We want to clean up inconsistencies across the packaging
– We want to better billboard on shelf
– We want to clean up our label hierarchy and fix the “Anchor Steam Brewing” vs. Anchor Brewing issue
– We want to increase revenue by XXX%
Again, these are guesses, but not exactly shots in the dark. Let’s assume they’re correct and move onto the next major point.
EVOLUTION VS. REVOLUTION
Any move to rebrand a legacy brewery is going to include an element of modernizing the overall aesthetics. And while there are no universal rules, it’s easy to go just a little too far and lose what was special about an old school look in the first place.
We frame this conversation with our clients as Evolution vs. Revolution. Are you completely reshaping your brewery’s culture and positioning? Are we throwing your logo out with the bathwater and creating wholesale visual change across the board? Or, are we building on decades of work and hard earned goodwill to make subtle updates in a natural progression?
The deciding factor here, beyond specific goals and project context should be driven by Brand Equity. This is the total amount of goodwill your brand has with its customers. What lore and visual cues that, if lost through the new design work, would confuse customers and lead to lost sales.
And while the goals listed above are legitimate and do require some major changes, I just can’t imagine the conversations that lead to deciding that nuking 125 years of brand equity is the right move.
ON RETRO VS VINTAGE
We’ve had a now decade-long conversation at CODO about what constitutes vintage aesthetics and what this means for our current moment in time. “Vintage” is a word that gets thrown around like “craft”—it’s hard to pin down and means something different to everyone.
From 2010 to 2020, hundreds (thousands?) of breweries came to market with vaguely retro / vintage / throwback branding. We called this “Nostalgic Regional” in our 2020 all-decade beer branding trends review.
My point here is that those breweries had to fake it. They had to rip holes in the knees of their jeans, so to speak. They had to use mish-mash typography and faux textures and every other little info type that we designers love to use (e.g. ESTD. 2019, TRDMRK) in their branding to look older than they were because they wanted that story.
And to have a brewery like Anchor—with a genuine provenance that an untold number of other breweries are all seeking to convey—jettison that very story so abruptly like this is just… disappointing.
And beyond all this, ironically, Anchor might’ve had a better chance at courting Millennials (who have forgotten about them) and Gen Z (who have never heard of them) by leaning into their fun vintage look. See recent refreshes like Ranier, Iron City and even Budweiser for reference.
To conclude, this is a rough spot, both for Anchor and their agency. Anchor desperately needed to make a change, but it seems undeniable that they’ve missed the mark here.
I’ve avoided specifically calling out issues with the design itself in this piece. But to be blunt, even if Anchor had made a different (though equally drastic) update, I don’t think the response would be as negative if the result didn’t look so half-baked and stock. Put frankly, this looks like an early sketch. The typography needs more refinement and consideration. I don’t understand the different type treatment for the porter. The anchor illustration (arguably the most important element at play) is clunky, and has no sense of the history of this iconic brand. And the colors, while technically eye-catching, are garish and unrefined.
This feedback isn’t particularly constructive and we can discuss subjective opinions about design all day. But the real barometer here—the one that matters more than anything else I’ve said—is will this update help Anchor right the ship and sell more beer?
Maybe Anchor knows something that we don’t, and this was the right move.
And as a fan, I hope they do.
1. A proper brand launch campaign wouldn’t provide enough cover fire for something as generic as this branding, but you do need to plan for how you roll out your rebrand. Lest you find yourself defending it on social media. Ouch.
2. I hope I’m wrong about all this and that Anchor sees great results from this effort.
3. Let’s take a moment to be thankful that we’re able to get upset over something so trivial. Call your parents this afternoon, take your dog for a walk and support your local Old Guard brewery.
Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.