Bud Light uses one-of-a-kind, digitally printed cans to reach the millennial market

In a vibrant integrated marketing program aimed at reintroducing the Bud Light brand to the millennial market, Anheuser-Busch introduced a limited-edition series of one-of-a-kind Bud Light cans. The series was created using cutting-edge technology to deliver a unique experience to each beer consumer and is being distributed exclusively at a concert series hosted by experimental record label Mad Decent.

“The biggest thing was we wanted to make sure this package would feel very young, very spontaneous,” says Madison Pietrowski, brand manager for Bud Light. “The kind of random nature of these designs is what really captures the fun, ‘up for anything’ essence of what the brand is all about.”

Established beer brands have been seeking new ways to appeal to the millennial market, who could remain customers for a long time and who account for an estimated one-fifth to one-quarter of discretionary consumer spending.

Geometrically Diverse

Anheuser-Busch’s agency, Vice, selected a number of graphic artists who submitted work for the concept, giving the company about 90 submissions from which to choose. The team at Anheuser-Busch then went through the options and selected 31 designs.

“We wanted to play a lot with bright color and design, and make use of the geometric shapes,” Pietrowski says. “We wanted to use some actual Mad Decent artwork, and their designers gave us great designs to choose from.”

From there, the brand turned those initial 31 pieces of artwork into thousands of unique patterns, making use of Hewlett-Packard’s personalization software, HP SmartStream Mosaic, a software plug-in available as part of the company’s Indigo Solutions line.

“What the technology does is it takes the original artwork in the form of seed files,” says Doris Brown-McNally, worldwide brands business development manager at Hewlett-Packard. “The software grabs elements out of those files, and the algorithm can take the imagery that’s there and literally create millions of images.”

The SmartStream algorithm lets users select specific parameters to manipulate, and they can choose to alter a file’s text, images or color. Anheuser-Busch chose scale and rotation as the parameters to alter, meaning the HP algorithm randomly changed the scale of the individual graphic elements in each design and rotated them to different degrees, allowing each can to feature a unique pattern.

For example, one can features yellow and black elements in shapes similar to lightning bolts, with those shapes arranged in a diagonal pattern. A different can uses those same shapes, but they’re arranged in a pattern more like vertical stripes. Other designs use bright magenta and blue lines in a wavy pattern, or thin orange and black stripes at a diagonal. Some feature pink and green triangles against a blue background, with the rows of triangles rotated in different ways, or collages of triangles in different colors and different angles. Others feature multi-colored, confetti-like patterns against a black background.

The use of the Mosaic software allowed the brand to make unlimited changes to these and many other examples by manipulating various parts of the design. This was the first time Anheuser-Busch had used the Mosaic plug-in.

Ambitious goals with a quick roll-out

“We had thirty-one designs from the artists, but we could have made thirty-one million different designs,” says Gina Bazigian, innovations manager for Anheuser-Busch. “For this execution, we produced more than two-hundred thousand cans, and no two are exactly alike.”

Bazigian says this packaging came together more quickly than a typical brand execution. The process started in April, with the goal of leveraging Bud Light’s partnership with Mad Decent. The new cans, which were printed by St. Louis-based Prime Package and Label, were produced and in hand only about 70 days from the time planning began. The short timetable meant the cans were only seen internally before the rollout.

The designs appear specifically on 16-oz cans of Bud Light, and cover the can with a nearly 360-deg design that is itself a change from previous packaging. The existing, italicized Bud Light logo still appears in white on each can, though it is also rotated horizontally or vertically depending on the can. In addition, the mandatory text remains consistent across all of the cans, printed in white text on a thin, black, vertical rectangle that also includes the barcode and recycling information.

A delight for the eyes and ears

The cans are available exclusively at the Mad Decent Block Party. Distribution started with an event held on July 31 in Atlanta and will end on September 26 in Chicago. There are 22 block parties scheduled throughout the summer, held in 19 major cities across the United States and Canada.

These block parties, which began in 2008, feature a range of young musicians popular with millennial audiences. The 2015 summer lineup includes artists such as T-Pain, Skrillex, Dirty South Joe, and Tyler, the Creator. Bud Light is the exclusive beer sponsor of the block parties, though other Budweiser products will be available in their existing packaging.

“We wanted to make sure the cans fit with the look and feel of Mad Decent and what they represent,” Bazigian says. “There is an expectation that these designs will build buzz for the brand over social media, because they’re exclusive and they have that shareability for social media.”

Designed to get social

Mad Decent encourages concertgoers to document their experiences on social media, including through Instagram, and Anheuser-Busch will use consumer interest on popular platforms to help spread the word about the unique packaging.

While at this point the Mosaic-based cans are specific to the Mad Decent Block Party, Bazigian says Anheuser-Busch will continue looking at new ways to use digital printing. Though a specific future use is not yet planned, the company has set some performance-tracking metrics for the rollout, will gauge how consumers feel about the new cans and the brand in general, and will use that feedback in planning possible future executions.

Jeff Fleischer