Brand Loyalty


Has everybody else noticed that, for the second time in a generation, the Bass Ale Company has redesigned its iconic bottle? Or, should I say, its formerly iconic bottle?

The modern age has a mania for redesign. There’s some kind of unwritten law in publishing, for example, that says a magazine has to undergo a redesign, usually a fairly substantial one, every five years. The problem is that the people redesigning the product are often unfamiliar with its legacy and heedless of its visual hooks. They impose broad, tasteless marketing techniques that aim for a lowest common (generally American) denominator. Now, for most products, this isn’t too big of a problem, because most products don’t have much of a legacy. A lot of beers do, however, and Bass, “introduced to a world of stouts and porters” by Bass & Co Brewery, Burton-upon-Trent, in 1777, has a rich backstory.

For one thing, the red triangle on the bottle is one of the world’s oldest logos and the first trade mark registered in Britain. Its association with the U.K. brewing industry and pub life made it as much a symbol of England in the 20th century as the red double-decker bus, the boxy black London taxi, derby hats, monumental phone booths, and the Carnaby Street hip boot. Across the Channel, it is prominently featured on the bar in Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère. It crossed the Pond in a big way when I was in college.

The bottle I was introduced to in the 1970s resembled the one on the cover of Dylan Thomas’ Adventures in the Skin Trade. The brown glass bottle had a gradually sloping curve and a simple red triangle on an oval yellow/white label. In the 1990s, the bottle changed, taking on a more cylindrical appearance with a more angular shift into the taper. The label had a few subtle stylistic adaptations as well. I missed the old bottle, but I noticed the new one appeared more similar to the bottles Manet painted–though he seems to have painted 40s, which I’ve never seen at the local Pack-O-Liquor.

This latest change, coming six years after the sale of Bass to Interbrew (now InBev), a Belgian company, involves only the label. And it establishes a complete break from tradition. Essentially, they have dressed this beer up for the Super Bowl. I hear the ghost of Dylan Thomas is pissed and kicking up a lot of dust down at the White Horse Tavern.

Speak, ghost: “At least they have not mucked up the liquid spirits.”

Because that would be an outrage.


4 Responses to “Brand Loyalty”

  1. mrschili Says:

    My husband is a mechanical / industrial designer, and complains a lot about what you’ve written here. He doesn’t understand the NEED for compaines to do overhauls of designs that WORK.

    His theory – and I suspect he’s on to something – includes both power and culture. His thinking is that many of the changes are inspired by changes in upper management; a new guy or team takes the reins of a company and has to “piss all over everything to mark their territory” – change for the sake of change and nothing more. He also believes that a good many of the changes that appear, especially in American products or products marketed to Americans, appear as a result of a belief that Americans suffer from a mass case of ADD. The thinking goes that we WANT “new and improved” all the time, and the only way to hold our interest is to rework the product at regular intervals.

    Needless to say, we’re both with you on this one. The old adage became an old adage because it speaks a Universal truth: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  2. Todd Says:

    I have not touched a beer in 19 years, so I did not notice. As a designer, I do hate it when a great logo or packaging is re-designed. It seems to make the product look cheaper, and plastic to me. I do find it funny how the lowly 25 cent cup of coffee has been marketed into its current state.

  3. keda Says:

    it’s so true that things end up looking cheaper and trashier. yet the price always goes up.

    i’m still recovering from my favourite bog standard moisturiser being redesigned badly. i can never find the bugger on the shelves. grrr

  4. colleen Says:

    I hadn’t noticed, but I generally don’t like redesigns and new and so called improved stuff. When something works why do they fiddle with it? When I find a product I like and then try to reorder or buy it again later, often it doesn’t exist because they have moved on to bigger and and so called better.

    Have you noticed that the PBS Newshour has changed its format and sound? I liked the old one better.

    Come on over and see my son’s BFA show when you have some time. I’m trying to recover from the emotional experience of it.

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