One day in 2012, Nick Shields was sitting in a dive bar in Westport, Connecticut called the Black Duck when he made a simple observation that would change his life. "I saw five women order vodka sodas, one after the other," he recalls.
At the time, Shields was in the beer industry, managing a brand called Haffenreffer that his great-grandfather created in 1870. But in 2012 beer had started losing ground to wine and spirits. So as Shields sat at the bar, the vodka-swilling women became his muse to create something entirely new: a drink that was as light as vodka but rooted in beer-making methods. What emerged after plenty of trial and error was the first-ever spiked seltzer, made with fermented sugar rather than malted barley.
He named it, easily enough, SpikedSeltzer, and the rest is carbonated alcohol history: Sales skyrocketed, copycats followed, and Shields in 2016 sold the brand to Anheuser-Busch InBev, which took it national last summer.
This week SpikedSeltzer will pass another milestone as it unfurls its largest ad campaign, including a TV spot, digital ads and outdoor marketing featuring wrapped buses and trains. The effort makes liberal use of the brand's original mermaid logo, but adds a new tagline, "Follow Your Siren." The phrase is another way of saying follow your intuition, kind of like Shields did back in 2012. The agency is Bullish, which the brand hired late last year.
Ads take cues from 1920s-era art deco posters that were commonly used to plug travel destinations and Champagne brands. The animated 15-second TV spot shows a woman diving into a pool where she swims with a mermaid. U.K.-based artist David Doran created visuals for the campaign.
The campaign comes as SpikedSeltzer tries to beat back competition from a plethora of brands crowding the alcoholic seltzer category that Shields created.
SpikedSeltzer, while still growing strong, has been surpassed in sales by some of the copycats, including White Claw Hard Seltzer by Mark Anthony Brands, known for Mike's Hard Lemonade; and Truly Spiked & Sparkling by Sam Adams-maker Boston Beer Co., according to retail sales data from IRI. MillerCoors is also in the game with Henry's Hard Sparkling Water, which debuted early last year and is backed with a new national campaign that began this month.
SpikedSeltzer ranks 14th in the broader flavored malt beverage category with sales exceeding $25 million in the 52 weeks ending March 25, according to IRI, which does not include bar sales.