No doubt you were told at a young age to not judge a book by its cover -- in part to spur exploration and free spirit, but also as a lesson against the perils of discriminatory thinking. We all should be judged by our merits, the saying goes. It's what's on the inside that counts.
Turns out that it's all a load of crap, or at least as far as bottle labeling goes. David Schuemann of CF Napa Brand Design has a new book out called 99 Bottles of Wine, and it demonstrates how likely we are to shop and make shallow judgments with our eyes alone. Schuemann told NPR in a recent interview that he and his firm have engaged in such questionable behaviors as making wine look more sophisticated than it really is, and adorning lesser bottles with showy labels that literally pop off the shelf and grab your brain by its credit card.
That the trick works shows that the age-old advice Big Bird gave us when we got home from pre-school hasn't been taken to heart. And it's not just wine labels that have us stooping to such materialistic lows. Beer -- even locally brewed beer -- engages in label design aimed at subtly controlling your mind.
"Do people pick things up because it looks good?" responded Wim Bens when prodded about his beer labels. "Absolutely!" His Lakewood Brewing Company is well regarded in the local brewing scene, and his beers can be found on tap at many bars just as easily as it can be found on shelves at area grocery stores. Bens worked with his former employer Tracy Locke, a design and advertising firm, to develop a branding theme for all his products. And now he adapts that theme as new beers became available.
Each beer label is anchored by an image of wooden boards that vaguely echo the walls of the tasting room at the brewery. Each beer has a badge and a symbol that adheres to a similar style that is imposed on the wooden background. "It needed to be iconic, eye-catching and simple," Bens said of the design concept. He wanted his labels to be recognizable from across the bar, or across the grocery store, no matter what style of beer was in the bottle.
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Bens is quick to point out the obvious. If the beer inside the well-dressed bottle is terrible, then the marketing ploy won't work very long. But it does work.
If you've ever shopped for beer or wine, chances are labels have helped you make the decision. And if you don't have a lot of knowledge about the brands you're shopping they may form the basis of your decision entirely. Picture walking into a new wine or beer store that you've never patronized before and looking at bottles you have no knowledge about whatsoever. Labels can give you a little information about the alcohol content (which might give you clues about flavor) or the hops that have been used (which can affect flavor and aroma) but until you actually taste the beer you're completely clueless.
You're shopping for booze based on how cool the label is and there's not much you can do about it.
At least with Lakewood Brewing Company, the cool label correlates with good beer. But the next time an unknown bottle grabs you with a catchy logo, or a cool design, it might be time to ask yourself what you're really attracted to.