White Claw Summer: How Does A Brand Become A Phenomenon?

White Claw Summer_ How Does A Brand Become A Phenomenon_

Summer 2019 belonged to White Claw. Across the web, a swell of user-generated content and buzz helped to make the drink a phenomenon.

In fact, it has become the top-selling hard seltzer brand in America. About half of all hard seltzers bought in the US today are White Claws.

So, how did this happen? Let’s take a look.

The Origin Of White Claw

White Claw Hard Seltzer is an alcoholic seltzer beverage. It was created by Mark Anthony Brands. This company makes the very popular Mike’s Hard Lemonade too.

Its launch was announced on June 24th, 2016 on Brewbound. The press release explained its benefits. The beverage is all-natural, low carb, gluten-free, and also low-calorie.

“Serving as a step away from high-sugar sodas and mixers, White Claw is a shift into a lighter, all natural, better-for-you alcoholic beverage – defining a whole new category for those who want to enjoy life and have fun while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Sanjiv Gajiwala, vice president of marketing, White Claw Hard Seltzer.

This open branding positioned White Claw as a sort of guilt-free alcoholic drink. It was made out to be a mix of healthy and fun. However, its explosion into the public eye has nothing to do with that.

In fact, it’s likely that most people don’t know about this initial launch at all.

The Path To Virality

All content creators online would love to go viral. It can give you exposure to a huge audience. However, the perfect formula for creating viral content does not exist (yet!). That’s why it’s important to study exactly how things go viral.

SEE ALSO: Leveraging A Twitter War: How The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich went viral

So, you want to know:

  • Initially, what sparks conversations?
  • What keeps them going?
  • What kills them?

Remember, something might appear to just “be everywhere” one day. But, that’s not usually the case.

The Making of White Claw Summer

In summer 2018, the blog Post Grad Problems published “White Claw Is Four Loko For A New Generation.” First, the writer had noticed its popularity on college campuses.

According to this post, its popularity has to do with it filling the hole left by Four Loko. Four Loko was a popular cheap, caffeinated, candy-flavored alcoholic beverage in the 2000s.

Four Loko was actually banned in several states. It became infamous for its involvement in violence and crime. It also led to alcohol poisonings. In 2010, the manufacturer removed the caffeine. They also stopped marketing it as an alcoholic energy drink.

Non-alcoholic Four Loko is still available in stores. However, it has largely lost its cult status over the last decade. White Claw may have filled that gap.

The Popularity of Flavored Seltzer

In 2018 and 2019, other websites picked up on its popularity. So, they started talking about it. Many say that White Claw was just riding the flavored seltzer wave.

The flavored seltzer LaCroix was known as a Millennial ot-brand for years. However, the entire retail seltzer market in the US has boomed. Retail sales of seltzer in the US more than doubled from 2013 to 2018.

So, flavored seltzer was already a hot topic when White Claw launched.

White Claw Summer

It is amazing to make a successful product. However, there are lots of successful products out there. Most of them do not also become pop culture icons.

For example, everyone uses toothpaste. But, have you ever seen anyone walking around in handmade Colgate earrings?

White Claw was already popular on college campuses by the summer of 2019. However, it was considered to be something that only young women drank.

Drinks White Claw Once

YouTuber Trevor Wallace is largely credited with the drink’s rise to internet fame. On Jun 25th, 2019, he posted the YouTube video *drinks white claw once*. This comedy sketch accidentally rebranded the beverage.

His video paints White Claw as the drink of choice of obnoxious “frat bro” types. It mocks them for loving it. It also makes fun of the drink itself.

This video has over 3 million views. Wallace made drinking White Claw ironic and funny. As a result, his video single-handedly changed its reputation.

His phrase “no laws when you’re drinking claws” has become a meme in itself. Since then, people have created all kinds of content featuring the drink. Like these:

The hard seltzer also became so popular that there was a shortage. The company could just not keep up with America’s White Claw obsession.

Twitter users were quick to declare it a national emergency.

The Public Takes Over Its Digital Brand

White Claw is both ironically mocked and also loved. It seems to be the popular drink of an entire generation. It also has become symbolic of Gen-Z, much like Juuls or VSCO girls.

People not only want to drink it. They want to make memes of it too. They also want to wear it. So, Etsy is full of handmade White Claw items from indie sellers. These White Claw Stud Earrings are a best seller.

The Company’s Response

At present, the company has done nothing to control this conversation. They don’t even join in. Their marketing has remained unusually non-aggressive too. White Claw has stayed quiet and let the internet run wild with White Claw Summer. This is a conscious choice. According to White Claw’s Sanjiv Gajiwala:

“We want to let consumers have the conversation they want to have. I’m not interested in forcing myself into a conversation they’re already having about me. I’m grateful they’re having that conversation.”

In response, content creators have run with the drink. They have decided that it means many different things. In the past few months its been the drink of:

  • Young women
  • Frat guys
  • Gen-Z
  • Summer 2019
  • Hyper-specific groups

At first, White Claw was branded as healthy and fun. However, young people have ignored that. Instead, they have co-opted it. The drink has inspired content that’s ironic, funny, and even dark.

white claw summer

In addition, all of that content has provided millions in free advertising to White Claw too.

Final Thoughts

So, how did this drink become the top hard seltzer sold in the US? How did it also become a phenomenon in about 3 years’ time? What led to White Claw Summer? Let’s break it down.

  1. In 2016, White Claw launched. Flavored seltzer was already popular.
  2. Throughout 2016-2018, people were drinking it. So, bloggers and other outlets started taking notice.
  3. In 2019 YouTuber Trevor Wallace made a viral comedy sketch. It took the drink over the top.
  4. As a result, people joined in with jokes, merch, and opinions.
  5. White Claw stayed quiet. They’ve let the internet to have their fun. As a result, people advertise for them for free.

A Good Product

White Claw Summer developed organically. However, notice that it all stems from a likable product. It was also a take on an already popular trend, flavored seltzer. In addition, White Claw filled the void of “cult college drink” left behind by Four Loko.

Then, internet content creators started making content about it. However, this was because they saw so many people drinking it. They saw it in real life first.

However, White Claw’s initial very generic branding may have played a part in its success too. They created an inclusive blank slate. So, content creators have filled that vacuum.

SEE ALSO: How to Use User Generated Content to Build Your Digital Brand

Free Advertising

The company’s decision to largely let the public handle their branding is truly fascinating. And it has really paid off for White Claw too. Many content creators have spent months flooding the internet with White Claw content for fun. As a result, they have largely done White Claw’s advertising for them for free.

Many brands are afraid of becoming a joke. But, white Claw has let it happen. As a result, it has seen huge success.

So, what do you think marketers can learn from White Claw? Comment below…

Written by
Juntae DeLane
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