Branding turns Lite into the first successful light
Much of Walter
Landor’s early success stemmed from the package design,
trademarks, and branding he did for clients in the beverage
industry, beginning in the late 1940s and continuing for nearly 50
years. Landor established and maintained long-running associations
with brewery clients such as Rainier and Falstaff, wineries
including Mission Bell and Gallo, and distilleries like
Stitzel-Weller, maker of Old Fitzgerald bourbon.
Due in no small part to its work in this field, Landor
Associates grew from a regional West Coast design company to a
national enterprise. In addition, projects in the beverage industry
often served as a springboard for Landor to expand into new
geographic regions and diverse industries, such as commercial
aviation, financial services, and consumer goods.
Introducing a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer
By the early 1970s, Miller Brewing Company, a subsidiary of
Philip Morris, was well acquainted with the work produced on board
the ferryboat Klamath. Not only had Landor
redesigned the packaging for nearly every Philip Morris cigarette
brand, including Benson & Hedges and Marlboro, it had also
created new labels for Miller Ale, Miller Malt Liquor, and Miller
High Life.1 All three beer label designs featured
Miller’s classic script signature along with the distinctive scroll
beneath the name.
Consequently, when Miller bought the Peter Hand Brewery of
Chicago in 1972 and began producing a low-calorie beer based on one
of Hand’s recipes a few years later, it was natural that the
company should turn to Landor Associates to create the branding and
package design for Lite.2
Lite came on the market at a time when local and regional
breweries were on the decline, their products being supplanted by
those of national firms. These national brands had become so
dominant that by the late 1970s, the five largest breweries
produced nearly 75 percent of all the beer sold in the United
The work at Landor
The Landor team knew that the best branding solutions relied on
the expertise of specialists from many fields.4 At
Landor, the old tried-and-true methods had evolved into a
well-planned, scientific approach to marketing communications.
Miller and Landor collaborated on consumer research, testing,
financial planning, distribution, and advertising, creating an
aggressively competitive philosophy for the new brand.
Miller’s goal was to convince American male beer drinkers that
it was acceptable to order and enjoy a low-calorie beer. According
to a report in Brewers Digest, the visual elements for
Lite needed to “communicate masculinity and ‘beeriness’ and give
the Lite brand an impressive visual impact.”5 In
addition, Miller Brewing wanted to add Lite to its existing family
of beers without cutting into the sales of its other products.
To achieve this, Landor needed to position Lite as a
high-quality beer appropriate for two very different audiences:
women and the weight-conscious, who would be more likely to accept
a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beverage; and the regular beer
drinker, “who is looking for flavor, yet wants less-filling,
less-fattening benefits of a lighter beer.”6 The design
needed to emphasize Lite’s quality ingredients and promote a flavor
that would appeal to both groups.
The primary design element for the Landor team to develop was
the lettering style for the brand name. A gothic or Germanic script
would convey to consumers that this new beer was directly
rooted in German brewing traditions. Landor’s George McLean, a
specialist with years of experience in hand-drawn lettering, was
responsible for creating “the custom-designed calligraphy with its
Germanic origin [that] strongly suggests the tradition of
excellence associated with Miller.”7
Next, the designers worked on incorporating primary colors into
an elongated bull’s-eye that would capture viewers’ attention.
Golden grains and hops were placed in a red oval field inside
a ring of blue carrying the words “A Fine Pilsner Beer.” The
label’s illustrations depicted the major ingredients used in
flavoring beer: barley, wheat, and hops. These were rendered in
gold to suggest the richness and high quality of the new
Lastly, an appropriate background needed to be chosen for the
packaging and labels. Here Landor’s experts drew on their long
experience with frozen food packaging and selected a white
background. This would visually communicate to consumers the
lightness of reduced calories as well as the purity of natural
ingredients.9 White also eliminated any potential color
conflicts with the name or the bull’s-eye motif.
The classic Miller script with its distinctive scroll was
conspicuously absent here. Miller Brewing’s marketers may have felt
that without this traditional element, consumers would be sure to
ask for the beer by the one name that did appear on its package:
Landor’s marketing team helped position Miller Lite among the
other national brands. The label design for the new beer satisfied
Miller Brewing both at an aesthetic level and because it
communicated “quality, great taste, and less-filling to the beer
“Everything you wanted in a beer”
The phenomenal success of Miller Lite created a sensation in the
brewing industry. Lite’s appeal with beer drinkers caused sales to
rocket, and Miller Brewing moved from being the country’s seventh
largest brewery in 1972 to second largest in 1977.12
Shortly after Miller introduced Lite, other national breweries came
out with their own low-calorie beers. In spite of the competition,
Lite remained the top-selling low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer
for nearly two decades.13
The beer’s triumph in the marketplace also brought accolades for
Landor. The design for Lite received national attention, and the
label was “accepted for exhibition in the annual awards show of the
Art Directors Club of Los Angeles and Art Direction of New
York.”14 The judges observed that Lite’s label made it
appear more like a regular beer than a low-calorie product.
The advertising campaign to promote Miller Lite proved to be as
successful as its design.15 In general, beer drinkers
tend to remain loyal to a particular brand. As a new beer entering
the market, Lite needed to send a strong message to consumers that
would convince them to try something different. Landor’s packaging
and label design completed Lite’s look and appeal. In keeping with
its aggressive promotion, Lite was billed not only as a
low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer aimed at women and the weight
conscious, but as a new choice for traditional beer drinkers.
Whether a brand name is an invented word or a personal name, the
“brand names [and] packaging … make their distinctive contributions
to the success of the package.”16 In a 1982 television
interview, Walter Landor summed up the factors behind Miller Lite’s
popularity this way:
It’s a light beer. No, we’re not
saying it design wise, we’re making a rather heavy, bold, Germanic
lettering for the word Lite. It contradicts the spirit of the word,
intentionally. We are saying to people, this is a full-bodied,
Though Miller Lite is no longer brand-new, it remains an
outstandingly successful brand, a tribute to the solid partnership
between Miller Brewing and Landor Associates.
About the author
Guest author Bernie Gallagher is senior
documentation specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of
American History. His expertise lies in data mapping historical
object information for museum publications and museum web
Bernie has worked at the museum for over 20 years, overseeing
the cataloging of objects by curators, specialists, volunteers, and
interns and maintaining proper data standards in the database
systems. His specialties include the collections of information
technology and communications and work and industry.
Bernie earned an MA in history museum studies from the
Cooperstown Graduate Program at the State University of New York
College at Oneonta, where he wrote his thesis on Walter Landor, “A
Brand Is Built in the Mind: Walter Landor and the Transformation of
Industrial Design in the Twentieth Century.” His research and
subsequent thesis form the basis of this article.
1. Ken Kelley and Rick Clogher, “The Ultimate Image Maker,”
San Francisco Focus (August 1992), 117.
2. Michael Gershman, Getting It Right the Second Time
(Addison-Wesley, 1990), 64–5.
3. Kenneth G. Elzinga, “The Beer Industry,” in Walter Adams
(ed.), The Structure of American Industry, 6th ed.,
(MacMillan, 1982), 224.
4. Mary C. Colburn, “Lite & Selectra; Two Beers with Designs
on the Future,” Brewers Digest (October 1975), reprint
from the Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives
Center, National Museum of American History.
5,6 See note 4.
7. George McLean, interview by Jessica Myerson (25 May 1993),
transcript from the Landor Archive Project, Landor Design
Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American
8,9 See note 4.
10. William Flanagan, “The Charge of the Lite Brigade,”
Esquire (18 July 1978), 81.
11. See note 4.
12. See note 10, Flanagan, 73; see also FundingUniverse, “Miller
(accessed 23 March 2012).
13. Stuart Elliott, “Advertising: With its fourth Miller Lite
campaign in three years, an agency hopes consumers are thirsty for
change,” New York Times (3 November
(accessed 21 March 2012).
14. See note 4.
15. Miller Brewing Company, press release (23 July 1973), Landor
Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center,
National Museum of American History.
16. Stanley Sacharow, The Package as a Marketing Tool
(Chilton Book Company, 1982), 121.
17. “Walter Landor,” reported by Peter Bannon, Eyewitness News,
WAGA-TV, Channel 5, Atlanta, (4 October 1982), Landor Archive
Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum
of American History.