Brand View: The brand evolution of Windhoek Lager
Following the First World War, two colleagues from the Deutsche Afrikabank, Carl List and Hermann Ohlthaver, set out to start a business partnership, Ohlthaver & List Ltd — where the legacy of Windhoek Beer began. In 1920, the two men used their business acumen to consolidate four existing breweries, together becoming the founders of South West Breweries (SWB).
Alan Roberts, Windhoek marketing manager at brandhouse, and Anton Twigg, global marketing manager for Namibia Breweries Limited, provide a visual case study of the brand’s evolution over the years.
- German bankers Carl List and Hermann Olthaver found a brewery and begin brewing Windhoek beer according to the Reinheitsgebot, the way Windhoek is still brewed today.
- During the Second World War, when it became difficult to find the best ingredients, they choose to halt brewing for a short time, rather than to use inferior ingredients.
- Advertisements appear in the German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung.
- Beer deliveries to Ovamboland.
- The brewery is in full swing.
- Karl Werner, List’s son, takes full ownership of SWB in 1965.
- In 1968, SWB amalgamates with Hansa Brewery in Swakopmund, expanding even further. The merger is an instant success and makes SWB the sole national brewer in Namibia. The Windhoek brand grows beyond Namibia’s borders and later distribution begins to Angola — with the assistance of mine-proof delivery trucks!
- Windhoek Beer celebrates its 50th birthday and gets a commemorative watermark (which sticks because consumers do not want to see it taken off the label!)
- With brewing capacity stretched and plans to grow market share further, construction of the new, state-of-the-art brewery begins in 1981 and is finished in 1986.
- In 1984, Windhoek Light is launched. In 1986, after much intense negotiation by the brewery team at the time (which includes founder Carl List’s step-grandson), SWB is granted permission to transport Windhoek Beer into SA.
- By the mid-1980s, the Windhoek brand we know today is well-established.
- In 1985, Windhoek is introduced in cans for the first time.
- Brown beer bottles are still high-fashion.
- Windhoek beer is delivered to SA troops across the border in armoured trucks during the war.
- Once Namibia gains independence in 1990, SWB is renamed Namibia Breweries Limited — opening further African markets for the brand, as well as some further afield, such as Russia.
- Windhoek beer celebrates Namibian independence and its own 75th birthday with a number of commemorative packs and celebrations.
- The essence of brewing according to the Reinheitsgebot is used at the core of a marketing campaign in 1992 for the first time and has remained a central tenet of the brand’s identity and promise to consumers ever since.
- Late 1990s: move to green dumpy bottle and cream rectangular label with slanted neck label; introduction of Reinheitsgebot logo; introduction of the Windhoek flourish.
- 1999: introduction of Windhoek Light.
- Most of the innovations are smaller, convenience-based changes, for example, an easy-pour can with a wider spout.
- Windhoek introduces 440ml cans — a move which is spear-headed by Windhoek Draught. This format has become incredibly popular within the beer category as a whole, with most brands offering a 440ml option. Windhoek Lager is now also available in a 440ml can.
Package evolution milestones
- 1950: Commemoration of the brewery’s 30th anniversary
- 1970: Move to watermark for 50th anniversary of brewery
- 1990: Independence Lager to commemorate Namibia’s Independence
- Late 1990s: Move to green dumpy bottle and cream rectangular label with slanted neck label; introduction of Reinheitsgebot logo; introduction of the Windhoek flourish
- 1999: Introduction of Windhoek Light
- Early 2000s: Move to green long-necked bottle; square “75” label to round/oval
- 2003: introduction of Windhoek Draught in a can
- 2006/7: Further development of the Reinheitsgebot emblem and copy
- 2007: Change from 340ml to 330ml
- 2011: Current packaging launched
Launch date: unknown (mid-century)
Description: Windhoek Pilsner was, in all likelihood, a variant produced by the Hansa Brewery in Swakopmund, which later became part of the SWB group. The label has the triangle SWB logo on the left. The Hansa Brewery was used to brew Hansa Pilsner (the rights of which were later sold to SABMiller), and hence the assumption that this originated from that brewery.
Launch date: unknown — post 1970 but before 1990
Description: An interesting icons on this label is the “50” watermark, which was put on the label to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the brewery. The SWB logo (South West Breweries) indicates that this label was used before 1990, when SWB changed its name (and icon) to Namibian Breweries Limited (NBL). This is a 750ml Returnable Bottle — the shape of which was only recently phased out.
Launch date: early 1990s
Description: Affectionately known as “The Hand Grenade”, this was the bottle shape that most consumers would have been introduced to for the Windhoek brand. The short, stubby shape was quite common in SA at the time, and eventually was phased out when global bottle-shape trends moved towards taller, more slender shapes with longer necks. It was a 340ml Non-Returnable Bottle (NRB).
Brown glass was commonly used for beer, and it was only towards the mid-to-late ’90s that green glass came to define “premium” and most brands moved into green glass. Brown glass is, in fact, much better for the shelf-life of beer: it lets in less light and UV, and consequently the beer is less likely to become “light struck”, a condition whereby the beer acquires a slightly musty taste after exposure to strong light.
However, consumer preference is for green glass, hence the reason that Windhoek uses the darkest green glass that can currently be manufactured at scale in SA.
The watermark commemorates the 50 years that Windhoek Lager had been brewed, which technically happened in 1970. The precursor breweries to the current NBL were established in 1920. However, there was strong consumer resistance to any attempts to remove the “50” watermark, so it hung around for long after the 50th anniversary had come and gone!
Note: at this stage, the “Windhoek” name is used without the double flourish (which has subsequently become an integral part of the brand iconography). The double flourish was only added in the mid-90s, although one can see that already the brand had adopted the Germanic/Gothic script which has become part-and-parcel of the brand identity.
The label shape was driven less by consumer preference or marketing insights than by production requirements, which dictated that you could have only one label shape across all products.
What is interesting is that there is no Reinheitsgebot symbol. While the beer was always brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, this only became a central tenet of the brand’s positioning towards the late ’90s. This was also the first pack to show the “new-and-improved” NBL crest, which replaced the SWB brewery logo in 1990 when Namibia became independent.
Launch date: mid-1990s
Description: Referred to as the “Ecopack”, this pack was a returnable 340ml launched in Namibia. This was the first attempt to align the packaging across Namibia and other markets (primarily SA). Unfortunately, this bottle was short-lived: trade and consumer resistance to the smaller format and the hassles of managing returns led to it being discontinued within a few years.
This was the first introduction of the “racetrack” design that had become the standard in beer packaging across the globe. The slightl- off label shape was dictated by bottle shape, and the need to minimise label-application change parts. The design was developed by an in-house design team, and was also the first time the “Windhoek flourish” was rolled out in Namibia.
Launch date: 1995 — commemorating five years of independence
Description: This was a limited-edition bottle for the celebration of the fifth year of Namibian independence. Never really commercially available, it was used as a promotional tool.
This bottle is also a good example of how “The Hand Grenade” bottle shape was evolved to become taller, with a longer neck. It also signals the move to green glass, which was soon to become the norm for the Windhoek trademark.
From an iconography point of view, it is interesting to note the absence of the NBL crest or RHG shield. As this was a limited edition, we suspect there was less effort put into maintain consistency of the brand icons — especially the blue and red brand name!
What is significant is that this was the first use of foil on the Windhoek range — a practice that never really took off. This pack was only available in Namibia.
Launch date: 1995
Description: This is another limited-edition bottle to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Namibian Breweries. By now, embossing had been brought onto the bottle.
Launch date: 2008
Description: A 750ml returnable bottle, this shape replaced the old returnable bottles.
Significant is the prominent RHG logo, which indicates the increased emphasis that was being placed on the “100% Pure Beer” positioning of the brand. This label is a later evolution of the same design that was applied on a square label; at some stage, marketing must have managed to convince production that they should invest in new label applicators, thereby allowing for die-cut label shapes.
By now, Windhoek was conforming to the internationally recognised “racetrack” designs of most European beers, and the Gothic script and double flourish were already well-established.
This pack was replaced by the current packaging of 2011.
Launch date: current
Following up, Windhoek Draught was the first in SA to go with the “broad shoulder, narrowed waist” shape — a trend that many other brands have subsequently followed. The intention was to create a strong, masculine-shaped bottle that was still distinctive from all the others.
If a natural beer like Windhoek is exposed to sunlight, it very quickly develops a condition called “light-struck”, which gives it a “wet-cardboard” taste and smell. In order to minimise the impact of light, we have opted for the darkest green glass possible, specially formulated to limit the effect of UV rays and sunlight upon the beer.
In Brand View, the editors of MarkLives.com invite brand managers to share the visual and marketing history of their brands with readers. This column is by invitation only and is not paid for.
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