What can we learn from Beer Tapper Handles?

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

It’s not often sculpture is used as an advertising medium. The one huge exception is beer tapper handles. All you need for a tapper handle is something sturdy to grasp while you pour a beer. But tapper handles have become one of the most elaborate forms of artwork in the world today.

According to Collectors Weekly when Prohibition ended in 1933, government regulations required that beer brands be clearly labeled on taps. Instead of simply adding text to the handles, breweries decided to add logo artwork. As decades passed handles became fancier. But the real golden age of tapper handles came in the 1990s when craft breweries became popular.

If you’re a small brewery, how in the world do you compete with giants like Bud, Miller, or Coors? Running a Super Bowl commercial or sponsoring a NASCAR team is probably out of the question. But micro brews recognized at least one place where there was an equal playing field; the beer tap. Every beer on tap obviously gets its own handle so this is the one place where everyone can compete.

If you’re someone who likes draught beer, you know plenty of decisions are made staring at the tappers. A handle’s appearance can tell you much about the beer. Marketers know this, and a lot of money is spent creating wonderful little sculptures for bar-goers.

If you want to see fine artwork don’t go to a gallery. Go to the pub. Tapper handles have become tremendously ornate. One of the largest manufacturers in the world, AJS Tap Handles in Random Lake, Wis. has a Flicker gallery featuring fully sculpted animals, plants, mascots, people, buildings and everything you can imagine. If not for the beer logos you’d think it was a gallery for a special effects studio!

These tiny works of art are made through a variety of means. Laser cutting, CNC routing, screen-printing, and injection molding are just some of the mechanized processes used. But much of the work, like detail painting, is still done by hand.

The next time you’re at the pub pay attention to the tapper handles. Imagine a designer sketching the idea for the first time. Imagine an artisan hand-painting the handles in batches as small as one hundred. Think about the brewery, fighting in a super competitive market and hoping the little sculpture they commissioned catches your eye. Happy hour may never be the same.

Is your business competing against giant advertising budgets? Are you searching for a way to stand out in a super competitive environment? Maybe there is an equal playing field where your marketing dollars have a better chance of reaching the consumer. Directions Marketing specializes in research and strategic planning. Let us help you gain a better understanding of your industry and find new ways to succeed.