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?

BLURRED LINES

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. 

CLARITY

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.   

Similarly, we’re seeing more beer bottles with crown enclosures and craft beer-inspired labelling make their way into the adult soft drinks category. The message to consumers is clear: these are sophisticated drinks for grown-ups to enjoy at all social occasions. 

For the slow-brewed organic soda brand Somersault, we also looked to the premium craft-beer market for design cues to reassure consumers about the adult nature of the product. But it needed its own ID, too, which we achieved with Insta-worthy fashion-inspired labels. It’s aesthetically different and memorable. We wanted the bottles to act as art on the shelf; something that retailers, bar and café owners would be proud to display. Retailer uptake has exceeded our client’s expectations and consumer responses have been compelling.  

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE

Sometimes doing the unexpected can grab attention, too, but it needs to be done with a strategic mindset.

Winemaker Squealing Pig has moved into the burgeoning gin market by creating a pink spirit that contains pinot noir rosé wine. The gin proudly wears its vintner heritage on its sleeve, with much of the packaging identity that we developed for the rosé (the biggest seller in Australia) making its way onto the spirits bottle.

One of the reasons Squealing Pig Rosé Gin has been so successful is because consumers have come to expect the brand to push boundaries. It’s a credible winemaker that has produced a succession of winning ranges, as well as championing new formats such as cans. We expect the unexpected so it works. This blurring of boundaries also serves to introduce gin fans to the wines on offer.

Despite using words like blur and borrow, homogenisation is not the way to capture consumers’ hearts, minds and mouths when you’re trying to tempt them to cross category boundaries. Brands need to give drinkers a reason to make the leap – and hold their hands while they do it by striking the perfect balance between new and exciting, familiar and decipherable.