Sandstrom Blog

On Failure: When You Fall On Your Face, You’re Still Moving Forward

It is a gratifying and exciting thing to take part 
in a brand’s success. It is crushing to witness failure. We have created solutions that have succeeded far beyond any goals or dreams. We have also created a few solutions that could be considered failures, but it should be noted that there are things that design can’t deliver.

We helped launch a new radio station by creating its identity, sales materials and a series of provocative television spots. It was an award-winning campaign and received national exposure. The station was a new twist on an existing news and talk format. We had never heard the station because it was not yet on the air. We could only work from the information about on-air personality and programming descriptions from our client. They were clear with their communications and were very intelligent, experienced radio people. There was no way for us to sample the product because it was 100% live programming and it relied on the talents of its on-air staff and production department. Our efforts got people to listen in, but the station was a bit rough around the edges at launch. It risked using newspaper columnists and former television talent as radio reporters and anchors. What could have been a good difference and a more unique approach became a bad idea. We built our concept around those differences. The work we did was far more entertaining and promising than the actual product.

We redesigned an identity and created an aggressive and unusual packaging approach for Lite, the world’s first low calorie beer from Miller. The brand had failed to fend off competitive advances from Budweiser and Coors, and had lost its leadership position to Bud Light. The client asked us to add the Miller brand to the Lite product because the word Lite had become too generic in the category. The identity was a successful execution of combining Miller’s corporate logo with the Lite logo to create “Miller Lite.” While this sounds easy, it was attempted unsuccessfully by the client many times over the course of a year.

The two logos were clashing and didn’t have an obvious relationship or way to connect to each other. Both logos had tremendous brand equity, but Lite was originally launched as its own brand outside of the Miller product family, and so it was never conceived to connect with Miller. By altering the Lite logo, we were able to find a way to integrate the Miller script above it. The letters of the Lite logo were drawn in such a way that to maintain all its brand recognition while positioning it as sportier and lighter. The packaging was aimed to appeal to a younger consumer than the existing Lite market. There were multiple executions for every size can or bottle each with attitude and humor infused into the labeling. There were over 50 different Miller Lite variations. The logo and balance of color and graphic treatment to each individual package maintained a consistency across the line. The variations were delivered in subtle shifts of layout and composition and different copy points or descriptions – many of which poked a little fun at the beer industry and encouraged consumers to seek out the other labels. The packaging was placed into a selection of actual bars in six different cities around the country to test consumer reactions in the field. It was an amazing hit. After releasing the packaging to retail, Miller’s corporate headquarters received 800 phone calls in one month from people who loved the new approach. They were offering more ideas and wanted to participate in the fun. Bars were creating their own promotions around the packaging and soon Miller’s advertising was centered around the packaging. During this time Budweiser and Coors were deep-discounting in the state of Texas to such a degree that they were stealing loyal Miller Lite consumers away. Texas was by far Miller’s biggest state for sales and they had built a brewery there. The Miller distributors in Texas absolutely refused to cut their margins and then blamed their lackluster sales on Miller’s marketing. While there was plenty of evidence to prove that the new identity and packaging had been working, there weren’t enough sales to support it. Phillip Morris, Miller’s parent company, listened to the complaints of the distributors and killed the ad campaign, which killed the packaging along with it. We could help create new energy and begin to change perceptions about the Miller Lite brand, but we could not stop competitors from deep discounting. We’ve always wondered what might have happened had the packaging been allowed to continue for a couple years.