Moving from Chile to Australia more than a decade ago has brought Sergio Montenegro many things: a career in multi-discipline design and web news; a young family; all the Rugby Union he could ever want; and, most importantly for us, an endless arrival of beautifully designed beer, for which he finally found a creative outlet.
Sergio’s beerstagram_au Instagram handle has become Australia’s first beer label animation account – true animation not phone generated. This new global graphic design trend in visual storytelling has been facilitated by smarter phones and faster web connections, something that wasn’t practically possible only a few years ago. Add in pressure on product design to connect with increasingly fragmented consumers, plus social platforms' move toward algorithmic video preferencing and this may well be the future of beer labels. But that’s not why he does it.
“That artwork doesn’t work in the bin," he says. "Between the brewer, brewery, designer and social media, it’s a lot of work.
“This gives life to something that’s not supposed to have it. It’s something that I needed to give life to so it doesn’t finish in the recycling bin. At least it’s now out there forever.”
It’s a noble aspiration, one which transcends the broader changes mentioned earlier and celebrates the creativity of all involved with beer. High level catalyst aside, conversation with Sergio is infectious, energetic and creatively inspiring; it’s of no surprise then when he says plaintively: “I need to be doing something otherwise I get really bored and I love beer.”
Perhaps it’s also that simple. So, in the latest instalment of our Aussie Beerstagrammer series, Guy Southern gets to know more about beerstagram_au.
NB: Some devices may not auto-play the animations. In which case, please click the images to see the Sergio’s work in action.
How did you get into beer?
I’ve always been a beer drinker, but I generally drank standard German beers. I got into craft beers through my mate Shane who was travelling a lot to the US and always brought back new and interesting beers to try. It was a bit of a novelty to start with, as the craft beer scene hadn’t exploded in Australia to what it is now.
Basically, it all started there: tried one, then started trying all the different styles and found the certain styles that appealed to me the most. In saying that, I’ve always liked the heavier alcohol beers like IPAs, double IPAs, imperial stouts and quadrupels.
How did you get into sharing your beer love on Instagram?
beerstagram_au was born just to showcase the beers that I was trying at the moment – a bit of fun like many others out there. It got to 50 or 60 beers where I started to take the artwork on the cans a little more seriously, and I started thinking about giving the cans a little more life. The tipping point was an Australian Brewery can for May the Fourth; while savouring this tasty brew the idea came to me to bring the lightsaber to life. That’s where it all began.
Basically, I’m a graphic artist/photographer/marketing guy. I’ve always been involved in photography, but animation was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Until this idea came along, I hadn’t found a project that I wanted to act on to learn the art of animation. I’ve been learning after effects and other software through this project – it’s all self-taught – but I’ve always been pretty good at Photoshop being a photographer by trade. I currently work for a big news website, too, so I’m around graphics all the time.
Obviously, there are tipping points where you start to grow and people start to recognise your artwork or who does the animations. I’ve done animations for quite a few brewers, but the standouts would have to be brewers such as Bridge Road, 4 Pines, KAIJU!, and Six String.
From my opinion, it’s just more interesting doing an animation than a picture. I think it’s a good option for brewers when they want to give life to the artwork. Pictures are good and will always represent the product, but something quirkier, like an animation, can generate more interest and increase traffic to their accounts, in turn bringing more attention to their releases.
First here is an un-released Newstead animation and, second, an exclusive Squid Rising animation that Sergio created with graphic designer Jake Minton for this article.
What’s your typical setup like?
Typical setup is wherever whenever! I’ve got a studio set up at home but generally all I need is my MacBook, my iPhone, and in most cases a bit of liquid inspiration to help the creative juices flow! When I started the beerstagram_au account I’d occasionally pull out a "proper" camera, but the majority of the time I’d just shoot with my iPhone.
Modesty aside, can you describe your style and suggest a couple of images that best represent your account.
I don’t have a particular style; I just go with the flow of the can. I’m a little bit of a storyteller in the short ten seconds of my animation but, basically, I try to strike what the brewery has put on the label.
The style also obviously depends on the beer, but definitely whatever the graphic designer tries to project through their artwork I just go with that but add a story to it. I think I’m pretty diverse in that I adapt easily to any kind of style, but I’m definitely not a looping kind of guy, more of a front to end storyteller.
Going back, I would have to say that some of my favourite animations would be Revenge of the Pith (Australian Brewery), Aro Noir by Garage Project, KAIJU! – I really like what I did for them with Metamorphosis, Newstead – I’ve done a couple for them that haven’t been released yet, and various works for Bridge Road who I’ve been working with since the beginning. One animation that I think caught the attention of a lot of viewers was their New World Lager, which was a pretty cool.
Changes to social media platform algorithms can create headaches when it comes to engagement. How do you stay on top of this constantly shifting digital sand?
In my opinion, it’s all about keeping yourself true to what you do. There is a lot of noise in social media and a lot of people pay for clicks and things like that to get their accounts clocking big numbers. I’m more about following people when they actually have something to say or something to show.
To me, it doesn’t really matter about the changes to social media, my work isn’t too affected by it. I’m a hashtag kind of guy but a lot of people just follow me because brewers are sharing my work, or I’ve been given a mention. As for the changes to social media, I don’t really pay too much attention; my work talks for me, I guess.
What Instagram accounts do you follow and what makes them special?
I grab my inspiration from all sorts of platforms, but there are some great Instagram accounts out there that always have good substance. One that not only has a vast display of Australian craft beer, but also great photography and cool typeface is @sipsandsessions. Another beer-related account that has good design, photos, and fonts is Clint at @pocketbeagles.
For illustration accounts, @jakemintonillustration is a definite go-to. Off the scope of beer, @motiongraphics_collective and @motionprocess have some great motion design work, as well as @hoodass, and @theuiuxcollective, which is a London based media agency with some impressive pieces.
Lastly, @r.j.visions does awesome art with craft beer and its flavours and themes.
Hashtags are synonymous with Instagram. What are some of your favourites and what’s one of the weirdest ones that you’ve seen or used?
I’m a big user of hashtags and feel they have a great impact on social media. I obviously have my own hashtag, #beerstagram_au, so I will always use that. If you want to get technical, from my point of view, the hashtag you need to follow is what your product is or what you are selling, so you need to have some key ones related to your brand or what you do.
In my case, #beerstagram_au contains all my animations that I’ve created for my own account, but I also follow the main ones like #craftbeer, #craftporn, #beerphoto, #beerlabels, #motiongraphics, #craftbeerAustralia, and a fave, #beerporn.
Obviously, you can search a hashtag and that will tell you how many posts it has, that means people do actually follow those hashtags. Basically, just follow the trade that you are in and that will help you with your own hashtags. Having said that, my exposure is not primarily through hashtags, it’s through people actually sharing my artwork or just commenting on it.
A lot of businesses see social media as time consuming. How long do you typically spend on your posts and what could a new brewery do to stand out on Instagram?
A lot of people spend a lot of time on social media, sometimes hours just to try to get good shots and things like that. My work is a little time-consuming because I spend hours doing an animation, but it just takes a couple of seconds to post, so I don’t really spend too much time on social media itself.
I would say that the more interactive a post is then the more people will have interaction with it.
Basically, it's "find your own style"; when you find your own style, people will like your brand. If you have a certain style, people will automatically stop for a second or two and have a look at what you’ve done, but it’s finding that sweet point where you don’t need to use much time to easily communicate your message.
For new brewers, it’s a matter of finding what makes them special. So, having their own hashtags, having their own image and their own targets, will all help their image and increase their exposure. There are different beers for everyone, and brewers generally have certain target markets they are trying to reach. So, it’s just finding that spot that the brewer can actually target that differentiates them in the market.
Most importantly, messages need to be short and sweet, ideally less than ten seconds so that way viewers can easily click to your content if they want to know more. Viewers really don’t spend much time browsing in detail so it’s best to make your message short but as creative as possible.
How do you choose which beers to feature? And how much does graphic design influence your selections / posts?
I am 100 percent influenced by what I see.
I don’t really pick a beer, obviously I have a style that I like, but basically when I see something, I just follow it. If somebody posts a picture or a new graphic design then I will follow the brewery and ask for the labels or photoshop the label and just do it.
If I see it and I imagine something, I will just go and do it. Certain breweries send me the beers and I just work on them but others I pick the beer because I feel there is something cool that can be done with the label.
Furthermore, have you noticed any emerging design or Instagram trends?
I think what I’m doing is an emerging trend! It’s a big community of craft beer enthusiasts out there and I want to continue showcasing and sharing my passion.
This all started because I noticed that nobody in Australia was doing animated labels at the time, and I was really keen to learn after effects. Now every time I see a can that I like with potential to do something with the label I just jump on it.
Instagram has the potential to engage brands beyond traditional marketing methods. What do you see as the benefits for beer businesses getting involved with Beerstagrammers?
Brewers and beerstagrammers should be working together more. Beerstagrammers have a large, growing social community, and if brewers want to get in contact with more people, they should have some beerstagrammers to follow and maybe represent their brands.
A simple t-shirt, or things that could help them put the brand out there without being in your face, really do go a long way in terms of promoting a product.
What tips do you have for anyone keen to, as they say, crush their Beerstagram game?
If you have an idea then the most important advice is that, if you want to do something then do it – don’t hesitate thinking: “I could do that…”, just go and do it!
I know photography but motion graphics is something I wanted to do, so I started with it and little by little I’m learning more and more. Just use your hashtags, change them depending on what you’re doing, for example photography, date, the season, the releases or the brewery.
Be a consistent style, be your own style, don’t try to copy things, obviously use the locations, your own locations or the breweries, their hashtags. Just act on it!
And any Instagram faux pas people should look to avoid?
Fake followers are the biggest one, but also, just don’t steal somebody’s style or pictures, and don’t copy reviews, remember that no two people have the same profile flavours in their mouth or their senses.
Just don’t keep it to yourself, put it out there – you might find that people actually like what you’re saying. Just avoid anything dodgy; just keep it real.
Note: It should go without saying but all photographs published in this article are the work of Sergio / beerstagram_au