To Many Shoppers, the Label on a Bottle of Booze Is More Important Than What's Inside

Categories: Food News

Lakewood Brewing Company
You already want to buy this don't you?
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.

See also: The Stories Behind North Texas' Beer Labels

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.

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.

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holmantx topcommenter

In 1952, Armon M. Sweat, Jr., a member of the Texas House of Representatives, was asked about his position on whiskey. What follows is his exact answer (taken from the Political Archives of Texas):

"If you mean whiskey, the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

However, if by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life's great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into Texas treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle." 


Packaging is AS important as the contents.

Look at Rahr - cheapass bottles, cheapass sixer  cardboard.  No thanks.

Conversely, grab a sixer of Widmer - thick, sturdy.  Embossed glass.   Not made for a pussy.


I would buy hello kitty beer at least once even if it tasted like piss


I spent 7 years selling Yellowtail wines among others. This is so true.


Yet the beers get about the same ratings in the beer world.

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