Smirnoff Ice has picked 87-year-old Instagram sensation Baddie Winkle to plug a new line extension that looks a lot like an alcoholic sports drink.
The drink, called Smirnoff Ice Electric, is a first-of-its-kind noncarbonated flavored malt beverage that was created to appeal to music and dance fans, particularly devotees of electronic dance music, or EDM. While most flavored malt beverages are bubbly, Ice Electric is decidedly not. It also comes in a resealable 16-ounce plastic bottle. The formulation and on-the-go packaging is geared toward consumers who might want to drink while dancing, rather than take a break to pop open a beer, according to Diageo-owned Smirnoff.
"It's completely unique to what exists in the segment right now," said Heather Boyd, brand director of flavored malt beverages for Diageo-Guinness USA. "It doesn't spill and it's noncarbonated, so you can shake it and it won't spurt around." And unlike beer, it won't leave you bloated, she added.
Debut flavors Electric Berry and Electric Mandarin are brightly colored with a look and taste that resembles Gatorade or Powerade. Despite the similarities, Ms. Boyd said Ice Electric will not be marketed like a boozy sports drink. "It's not a performance drink; it's not a sports drink; it's not an energy drink," she said.
But the campaign, by 72andSunny, does position the drink as something to imbibe while active, specifically while dancing. Ads show Ms. Winkle wearing a metallic blue bodysuit and boogying down with many people half her age. The tagline is "Keep It Moving."
Booze brands typically use younger spokespeople. But Ms. Winkle, whose real name is Helen Ruth Van Winkle, has a social media following as strong as any A-list millennial celeb. She has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, where her tagline is "Stealing your man since 1928." Her page is full of pictures of her in revealing outfits and shirts carrying provocative sayings like "Everybody must get stoned." Last year, she hung out backstage with Miley Cyrus as the singer rehearsed for the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. The New York Daily News has called Ms. Winkle an "over-the-hill rebel" who "has been the cool grandma of Instagram users."
The Ice Electric launch follows moves by big brewers into the hard soda category. Brands flooding the market in recent months include MillerCoors' Henry's Hard Soda, in ginger ale and orange flavors, and Anheuser-Busch InBev's Best Damn Brewing Co., whose flavors include cherry cola. Brewers are even starting to capitalize on the sparkling water craze with alcoholic offerings such as Truly Spiked & Sparkling by Boston Beer Co.
But as alcohol marketers create drinks that look like sodas and sports drinks, they risk generating scrutiny from regulators or politicians over the issue of underage drinking. "They've got to be extra cautious with products like this," said Benj Steinman, president of trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. But "they are taking some steps to be [careful], and so far there's been no outcry."
There have been isolated negative incidents. For instance, earlier this year police were called to an Applebee's in Tennessee after three children ordered root beer but were mistakenly served Not Your Father's Root Beer, according to local news reports. The brand, distributed by Pabst, contains 5.9% alcohol by volume.
Smirnoff Ice Electric has 5% ABV. (An average light beer is 4.2%, and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, a similarly sweet brew has 8% ABV.) Labeling on the front and back of the bottles says, "Must be 21+ to purchase," as does the top of the cap, which Ms. Boyd said exceeds regulator demands.
Diageo will also dedicate 40% of its media spending on the brand to responsibility ads, compared with its normal 20%. One of those spots shows Ms. Winkle putting down a Smirnoff and picking up a water, while saying the secret to staying young is pacing yourself.
Ms. Boyd also pointed out that the product launched under the Smirnoff name because it is widely known as an alcohol brand. "We just felt like it was the right thing to do make sure it was really clearly telegraphed as an alcoholic beverage," she said.
Smirnoff Ice Electric is also running spots starring deaf dance teacher Chris Fonseca. He was recently used in a campaign for the core Smirnoff brand called "We're Open." It is part of Smirnoff's push to "celebrate diversity and move people to be more inclusive," Smirnoff Marketing Director Julie Bramham said in a statement in March.