April 2, 2015

How Non-Standard Liquor Bottles Pave Way for Innovation

How Non-Standard Liquor Bottles Pave Way for Innovation

What do vodka bottles, the New Coke, and fast food burgers have in common? They’re shaping the future of our manufacturing Industry.

There are many things we take for granted when we consider how we purchase our goods, including the consistency with which they’re created. In the U.S., we love standardization of our products. Loaves of bread that are all the same size. A million cans of Coke are all 12oz. Fast food hamburgers look the same whether you purchase them in Idaho or Florida.

There’s something comforting in the fact that you can have a product one day and return to it months or years later to find that it hasn’t changed at all. It’s familiar, and we tend to subconsciously trust a product that appears the same as what we’ve had before. After all, if it hasn’t changed, it must be so good it doesn’t need to change. Why, then, would we opt for a different product when we’re so in love with the familiar?

Do you remember the soft drink named Coke II? Neither does anybody else. The beverage was created in the mid 80’s, originally named “New Coke.” It was supposed to herald a new era for the Coca-Cola corporation, a symbol that the soft drink giant was ahead of its rival Pepsi in terms of innovation and change. So why did the company cease production of their new drink a mere 3 months after its announcement?

The X Factors

They did their homework; the taste tests came back positive, and the market research indicated the public was thirsty for something new (so to speak). However, they neglected to take into account the attachment people had to the original product. Brand loyalty can go a long way, and people hated the fact that the drink they loved was being tampered with. So, why does some innovation succeed while others will fail so spectacularly? The answer seems to be that there are more factors at work when it comes to change than what the market research can provide.

Times of Change

Change can happen suddenly and from unexpected places. In 2013, the Russian government made a bold move—increase the minimum price of vodka by 35 percent across the board. The legislators behind this must have been pleased with themselves, banking on the rampant alcoholism prevalent in Russia to launch their profit margins to greater heights. There was no way the consumers would curtail their alcohol consumption, so what did they have to lose?

The opposite turned out to be true—consumers were willing to purchase smaller quantities of the product they loved, as long as they could keep their expenses down. This led to the creation of non-standardized bottle sizes that allowed customers to select varying amounts of liquor to suit their financial needs. In a national-sized tantrum, the Russian government responded by introducing new legislation to reorient alcohol bottle design and ban non-standard sizes.

As evidenced by the Russian liquor market, the status quo can always be overturned by consumers who are fanatical enough in their beliefs.

Ripples in the Pond

The ramifications of such radical ideas can reach far beyond mere alcohol packaging. As mentioned above, we love standardizing our products for ease of manufacturing and use. The entire backbone of the assembly-line style of production comes from the fact that the product in question can be created the same way over and over. We rely on a streamlined process for:

  • Manufacturing and development
  • Transportation and delivery
  • Marketing

We have it down to a science. Imagine the fear, then, when your consumers begin demanding a product that is 20 percent smaller or has a slightly different flavor. As Coca-Cola can attest, such demands are risky propositions. Even small changes in production can create a ripple effect throughout the entire infrastructure. It should come as no surprise, then, that companies are loathe to make these changes themselves.

Bottom’s Up – Flipping the Script

While changing the size of your packaging may seem like a small concession to a consumer base that is constantly changing their minds, the impact it can have can be noticeable. The Russians changing the sizes of their liquor bottles is indicative of a paradigm shift in the consumer-manufacturer relationship: sometimes it falls to the customer to lead the innovation rather than the business itself.

Consumers voting with their feet and purchasing smaller sized bottles as opposed to the traditional sizes demonstrates that even though the status quo remains easy and profitable, it’s not always in the best interest of the buyer. It may fall to the consumer on some occasions to show the corporations what they want to see instead of taking whatever is given to them.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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