As we covered earlier this year, the ready-to-drink beverage market has been booming lately. Just this month, the NYTimes declared fizzy water the drink of the summer and Bevnet reported that hard seltzers have been driving overall beer category growth. These low-cal refreshers have become wildly popular, so we're going to take a look into how one brand, the Chicago-based White Claw, is leading a new wave of better-for-you alcohol consumption.
This summer, we've seen 50-something year old MAGA-hat-wearing men in rural Montana sipping on them at a 4th of July parade, as well as 20-something liberal women in the Hamptons guzzling them down at a wedding. The Kentucky Derby partnered with them. Plus, both LeanLuxe and Salon declared this summer to be a "White Claw Summer," so let's dive in head first and see what all the splash is about.
Part 1: Top 10 Things You Should Know About The Claw:
- White Claw is a flavored hard seltzer water, with 5% ABV, 100 cals and 2g of carbs, and comes in 6 flavors.
- The brand launched in 2016, gained some traction in 2018, but absolutely exploded in popularity this summer as seen here:
3. Its virality is both offline, in its almost ubiquitous national distribution, and online, in a love/hate memification so typical of the Internet.
4. The memes exploded after comedian Trevor Wallace put out this video poking fun at the drink, which prompted the line, "Ain't no laws when you're drinkin' claws." Juicy side note: soon after the video took off, Trevor started selling tee shirts with that slogan and the next day he woke up to a cease and desist from White Claw's legal team. White Claw apparently also pulled out of a sponsored brand deal they had been discussing with the comedian. As a marketer, I would love to believe they had planned viral video and faked the backlash from the beginning, but I have no evidence to support that whatsoever.
5. Sorry for waiting this long to tell you, and this one really hurts me to say, but White Claw IS Mike's Hard Lemonade. It's the same company. You might be too old to remember this, but this was a Finkle is Einhorn moment for me.
6. Anthony von Mandl, CEO of Canadian-based Mark Anthony Group, who started Mike's Hard Lemonade in 1996 and called it the world's first 'spirit cooler,' sold the brand to Labatt in 2015 for $350M
7. The Labatt backing explains a lot of things, perhaps most of all the almost immediate nationwide distribution network, but also the budget for tv spots pretty much right out of the gate.
8. White Claw's brand presence first started showing up online almost exactly three years ago in June and July of 2016, according to Wayback Machine and Instagram. Interesting to note that it took them almost exactly three years to blow up nationally.
9. According to Bevnet through June 16th of this year, White Claw's variety pack sales were up 294%, to over $100 million , while sales of its Black Cherry flavor increased 284% percent, to more than $47 million over the same period last year.
10. White Claw’s website traffic also seems to have exploded, with organic traffic growing by an estimated 400% from May to June, according to analytics from SEMRush:
Part 2: From Kook to Pro Surfer, Building a $100M+ Brand in 3 Years
- White Claw launches in June claiming it "embraces the healthy lifestyle...brings the simplicity that is seltzer water, along with a spike of alcohol and a hint of natural fruit flavor, to create a refreshing low calorie seltzer drink with no artificial ingredients."
- Scanning Google News, about 20 press articles mention the brand that year, mainly trend pieces
- White Claw is mentioned as part of the growing hard seltzer trend by Business Insider
- Partners with Dancing With The Stars' Erin Andrews
- Supermarkets remain skeptical of spiked seltzer after PTSD from hard soda
- About 40 press articles mention the brand, solid improvement over the prior year, but nothing major
- White Claw launches their "Best Life Contest," offering $60k to two ambassadors for a six month gig of galivanting around the globe, which earns a totally respectable 2100 entries on Instagram
- The brand signs on as Warrior Dash's official spiked seltzer partner
- They also launch their first series of 5 tv spots, including Have it All, spending an estimated $5.5M in airings according to calculations made from aggregated iSpot.tv data
- Things are really taking off, especially in Montana, apparently the White Claw capital of the world.
- 'White Claw Wednesdays' start to become a thing at bars, like The Strip in Tallahassee, FL
- The Street's Kinsey Grant asks if summer 2018 could be the summer of spiked seltzer, but had no idea what was to come in 2019
- The brand earns roughly 50 or 60 articles, still about 50% above the prior year, most of which mention the Best Life contest
- White Claw launches 5 new tv spots including New Wave, and spends roughly $20M (or 250% more than 2018) on airings in 2019 (also based on iSpot.tv data)
- Clawdaddy Central Instagram account opens, indicating the beginning of the end of the world 😁
- White Claw launches their "Pure" flavor, which is essentially a vodka soda in a can, and this Delish article about it gets 50k shares on Facebook
- Variety packs cross $100M in year-to-date off-premises (to-go) sales, goes viral with all kinds of mashup memes with Toy Story and the movie "It"
- An Arizona bar created a White Claw claw game and people went nuts for it
- So far this year, roughly 200 articles have come out mentioning the brand, 130 of which have come out in July alone (according to Buzzsumo); approximately a 300% increase over 2018
- Charting the articles so far this year, it looks like White Claw may have done some sponsored content spending prior to the summer blitz in March, with their Delish and Popsugar articles reaching a combined 80k shares in March, which seems unlikely to be organic. Then you can see the massive spike in articles and engagement in July, which brings us to where we are today
Part 3: Top 10 Things Marketers Can Learn from White Claw
- When you see multiple convergent trends happening simultaneously (e.g. gluten free diets, keto diets, lower calorie alternatives, athleisure drinks), try to get ahead of them and position your product right in the center of those trends.
- Take a slightly different spin on an already popular trend, like sparkling water, by offering an alcoholic version.
- Be calculated with your packaging. The name, logotype and mark are bold and strong enough to lure a craft beer drinker, but the white background and pops of color are nods to the wine drinking crowd, allowing the beverage to float seamlessly between the two worlds and capture a broad audience.
4. Create ownable imagery. For the most part, the brand has been very consistent in pushing their black and white photo and video assets in their advertising; only using pops of color here and there.
5. Distill down the brand's essence to a simple strategic message. The creative agency ROTHCO helped White Claw get to the insight that they were the "purest hard seltzer in the world" and produced their "New Wave" video spots around that core message.
6. Back up your messaging with copy that resonates with a specific audience. In this spot, what is likely being used as pre-roll ads, they use the line "Crafted using our unique Brew Pure process," leading you to believe that it's not only a viable alternative for craft beer drinkers, but one that's more pure and healthy.
7. Test your product in different regions and then double and triple down on the ones that work the best. In White Claw's case it looks like they started by testing the Mid-West, North West, South East, and New England areas separately, and quickly found traction in the Mid-West (from Ohio to Montana) and established their core audience in some of the heaviest drinking states in the U.S.. Take a look at launch-year top search states vs. 2019 top search states in the two charts below.
2016 followed by 2019:
8. More "traditional" marketing tactics still work to drive awareness and sales: flashy ambassador recruitment announcements, celebrity-level influencer endorsements, partnerships with sporting events, and big TV spots are all tried and true tactics and if you execute them well, they can still deliver results. Even if you don't have the budget of Labatt, are there bigger brand marketing bets you can take instead of pumping all of your ad dollars into Facebook and Instagram?
9. The X factor here though for White Claw was the virality of the Trevor Wallace video. It wasn't until his video that the brand name exploded in awareness. This is, of course, hard to predict and replicate, but my guess is if the branding hadn't already appealed to both men and women and the healthier positioning already resonated so well in the market, Trevor likely wouldn't have done the video in the first place. So that's really just a bonus for having excelled.
10. Even if you're not able to do DTC yourself for legal or logistical reasons, partner with someone who can to maximize digital growth channels. White Claw partners with the alcohol delivery service Drizly, which is about as close as the brand can come to a DTC play. This partnership is really helpful for a brand to gain more insights into customer data as well as leverage the power of affiliate networks. Big publishers that post round-ups and other articles can include White Claw and make a nice commission off of the Drizly sale, like in this Women's Health article.
The question for White Claw and the hard seltzer category at large now is, how enduring is the wave? Will it be a quick crest and then go the way of Smirnoff Ice and fall off the map, or is this a brand and a category that has real legs? We will be keeping a close eye on it. Until then, cheers to Sanjiv Gajiwala, White Claw's VP of Marketing and the rest of the team on creating (and riding) an epic wave so far.