Blurred lines: Expanding brands into new categories

Design has a big impact on what people chose to drink and Rowena Curlewis, CEO of drinks design specialist Denomination, discusses the key factors which brands must consider in order to appeal to a wider range of consumers.

People are very tribal about what they drink. We’re habitual, buying the same thing every time we approach a bar or peruse a supermarket shelf. But according to the Office of National Statistics, alcohol consumption in the UK is continuing to fall, so for drinks brands to survive and grow, the fight is on to attract consumers from this shrinking pool in evermore innovative ways.

Luring people across these invisible but very real category divisions is a good start. But what are the key considerations for brands and their design partners when persuading a wine connoisseur that a heritage cider is a great choice to accompany a special meal? Or a gin lover that an adult soft drink will offer the same complex flavour profile?


One way to encourage consumers to cross the divide is to borrow design cues from one and apply them to another. By creating a sense of familiarity, a sparkling wine devotee, for example, might be persuaded to try a light, bright, effervescent cider. A bottled-beer aficionado may give a slow-brewed soda a go.

Right now, we’re seeing a kind of chain reaction take place, as wine designers look to the spirits world, craft beer and cider brewers check out what’s going on in wine, and adult soft drinks manufacturers buy into craft beer and spirits aesthetics. 

This is just the approach we took when we developed the brand and packaging identity for Strongbow Blossom Rosé Sparkling Apple Cider. Pink hues were used to delve into the semiotics of rosé and sparkling wine, bringing cider out from the mainstream, thirst-quenching sphere and into a more exciting, upmarket and party-starting realm. 

And data from the sales show that more than half of the people buying the drink do not regard themselves primarily as cider or beer drinkers. 

Another advantage of this approach is that it offers brands an opportunity to encourage consumers into the fold to introduce them to other brand offerings. 


But it’s not as simple as slapping design cues from one onto another. If you do that, there’s a risk that intricacies and semiotics will become muddled. Brand identity must always be 100% appropriate if it’s to come across as credible and authentic; it should always guide and inform. And the quest to create something original and special should never be sacrificed. 

Adult soft drinks brands are doing this very effectively. The flipside of the alcohol downturn is a surge in the demand for grown-up soft drinks, as health-aware adults seek out alternatives with sophisticated flavour profiles for all user occasions.

Brands like Seedlip and Rocktails have been promising consumers that they can offer the sophistication and layered flavours that spirits bring, just without the alcohol content, for a while now. And they’ve persuaded us of this by looking to the world of artisanal gin, a booming category. Bottle and label shapes, stock choices, typography, imagery, palette, embellishment, closure design… All of these build depth and layering, helping the brands create a powerful, believable and connecting message.