Branding Checkup: Harpoon Revamps Its Look


At some point, every brand needs a facelift. Even the iconic Harpoon IPA.

First introduced in 1993, Harpoon IPA hasn’t changed its look in more than 20 years, except for a few subtle tweaks back in 2009. But with new category entrants challenging the stalwart New England craft brewery’s position on retail shelves, Harpoon executives decided it was time to evolve.

“We felt our packaging wasn’t doing enough to communicate a couple things,” said company president Charlie Storey. “First, our motto — Love Beer. Love Life — was getting lost by the number of stimuli. Our old packaging had so many elements to it. Second, we needed to let the consumer know what to expect when they purchase our beer.”

To help its packages stand out, and to help “improve the health and strength of the brand,” the company removed some of the floral imagery that surrounded the original “Harpoon IPA” badge, and replaced it instead with straightforward, descriptive text: “Hoppy, floral, crisp.”

“We have to be able to present ourselves at retail in a very assertive way,” said Storey. “We wanted to turn up the volume. You have to. There are great packages and great beers and each brand has to stake out its territory and own a piece of the retail shelf.”

In doing so, Harpoon also implemented a new “icon” system, which will carry across the entire portfolio and help consumers better identify each SKU. For Harpoon IPA, they pinned a tiger onto the front of its cans and bottles.


“We wanted to have an image on our label that communicated some things but also had a certain amount of mystery to it,” he said. “We want people to create their own stories and mythology. We want to invite conversation.”

After testing a number of icons both internally and with consumer focus groups, Harpoon eventually chose the tiger over an illustration of the brewery because it felt consumers would “relate to the tiger in rational ways.”

“A consumer might say, ‘the Harpoon tap handle is orange, the tiger is orange — okay I can make the connection,” Storey said.

Other consumers might associate the tiger with India, where it’s the national animal, and draw a parallel to the “India Pale Ale” style, Storey said.

Harpoon IPA isn’t the only brand that will see a refresh either. Over the next 12 months, all year-round, core and seasonal products will begin to evolve, Storey said. New Harpoon Take 5 Session IPA imagery will rollout in the first quarter of 2016 and Harpoon Summer will be the company’s first seasonal to get the new treatment.

To help conceive the new identity, Harpoon worked with Catapult Thinking, a branding firm that describes itself as “design specialists who make brands more relevant to customers.”

“I know that change can be difficult, but we love it,” brewery co-founder Dan Kenary wrote in an email to members of the company’s “Friends of Harpoon,” club.

Check out the new look of Harpoon IPA, below.