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Budweiser's Controversial Can

by michael • June 28

In April this year, Budweiser unveiled an interesting new can design, which it says echoes the classic bowtie holding shape associated with the brand. We could debate the merits of the design until the cows come home, but the reaction outside of the design community can be summed up by the first result on Google for the search "Budweiser can": Budweiser's New Pitch: Less Beer, Pay More

The press immediately latched on to the fact that the bowtie can holds 11.3 oz—about 6% less beer than the conventional can. Most articles refer to the "grocery shrink ray," a term for whenconsumer products companies slightly decrease the amount of product in a package—hopefully without the customer noticing—to get more profit per package or to avoid raising prices due to inflation. A lot of people understandably see this as cheating the customer by giving them less without their noticing.

But that idea probably doesn't apply here. Budweiser's new can reportedly took 2 years and $1 million of research to develop, costs more to make per can and uses twice the aluminum to hold its unique shape. That 6% of beer they're saving per can is probably not enough to offset the cost of all that extra aluminum. This is not to mention the design constraints—if you're starting with a cylinder and want to introduce a design element without making the can larger, by definition you have to cut into the volume of the can.

And to top it all off, this can isn't replacing the standard 12 oz can. It will be sold alongside it. All in all, it's hard to believe that this design exercise was all a plot to shave .7 oz of beer off of each can of Bud.

It's hard to see how Anheuser-Busch could have handled the debut of this can better—especially by keeping the old can for anyone who doesn't like the new one—but their can redesign made news for all the wrong reasons. It's been a good lesson for me: when working with mainstream consumer brands, avoid the appearance of the "shrink ray" at all costs, or our design might become newsworthy for all the wrong reasons.