Congrats to Heineken for Updating its Bottle in the U.S.

Heineken is introducing a new, taller bottle in the U.S. in order to help it’s flagging sales. It is a smart move on many levels, and it will be successful.  But imagine the internal debate about change.

Heineken Lager Beer was established in 1873 in the Netherlands, and still uses the same recipe. It was the first beer imported into the U.S. after prohibition, in 1933, and has been a consistent bell weather brand. But while they once commanded a leading share of imports, Corona, craft beers, and even traditional competitors have introduced newer packaging and flavors, and Heineken has suffered. Today, Corona outsells Heineken almost 2 to 1. So it was out of necessity Heineken considered an alternative to the squat green bottle that has been their structural heritage. Funny how competition pushes a brand to better understand it’s equities.

But there is little risk. New drinkers will quickly adopt the new longer neck bottle as if it was always that way. And the current franchise will not run for the hills. It is an elegant and natural evolution for the brand, and there is little to fear. Said another way, they have intelligently updated their iconic bottle and not thrown out the baby with the bath water. Both consumers and the trade will see the update as a good thing.

But the bigger learning is that brands can and should refresh themselves. Yes, it is important to hold on to brand cues and equities. But consumers and the trade need new news to stay connected and excited. In fact, if handled well, they may want to engage with the brand even more than before because it’s actions show that it is dynamic and in tune with the times. Think about the morphing of the Coke bottle from its heritage shape and color, or the evolution of Apple’s apple… great examples of staying contemporary without losing the core brand equities.

It is always easy to criticize management teams for making brand faux pas. But in the case of Heineken, the bottle evolution will be well received.  In fact, I’m planning on heading down to my local store this evening and buy a case. Heineken describes the bottle as a strong shoulder aiming to convey an air of “masculinity and pride”. I’ll let you know if it works.