Truly enlists Keegan-Michael Key in a battle for seltzer supremacy against White Claw
Forget Coors Light versus Bud Light. The most compelling alcohol brand battle this summer is Truly against White Claw, the two dominant brands in the sizzling-hot alcoholic seltzer category. Neither is owned by brewing behemoths Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors, which have struggled to capitalize on seltzer’s astronomical growth.
Truly, marketed by Sam Adams-maker The Boston Beer Co., is looking to build on its momentum with a major new campaign starring Keegan-Michael Key. Five 15-second ads go squarely after the beer, wine and spirits categories. In one ad, Key dumps a light beer into a plant before cracking open a Truly. “Find a new use for your old drink,” he says, before urging consumers to “drink what you truly want.” In another ad, he uses scotch to polish a chair.
Other spots show him pouring whiskey on a grill, cleaning a car’s tires with vodka and dumping a bottle of wine down the drain so he can use the bottle to hold a candle.
The campaign is by Johannes Leonardo, which was recently brought on to handle the brand.
“There is a real truth in our message,” says Boston Beer Co. Chief Marketing Officer Lesya Lysyj. “It is actually what people are saying and what they are doing; they are switching from their old drink.”
Hard seltzer has emerged as the biggest alcohol category disruptor in years, stealing share from long-established brands in other categories. Hard seltzer sales in stores soared by 187 percent to nearly $900 million in the 52 weeks ending July 13, according to Nielsen, which projects alcoholic seltzer sales to eclipse the $1 billion mark by the end of 2019.
Notably, seltzers have emerged as a party go-to for young adult men, an occasion that light beer once dominated. “In some respects hard seltzers are a stake in the heart of beer,” says Benj Steinman, publisher of industry trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights, adding that “its popularity with guys is the curveball that no one really saw coming. It’s a big phenomenon.”
Caitlyn Battaglia, manager of Nielsen’s beverage alcohol practice, says seltzers are winning because they “generally feature fewer calories than heavier beers, wines or cocktails, and are on the low end in alcohol by volume.” And because the category still only represents about a 2 percent share of the total beer/flavored malt beverage market, “there is more room for growth,” says Battaglia.
Truly checks in at 100 calories, 1 gram of sugar and 5 percent alcohol-by-volume per 12-ounce can. Light beers typically have 4.2 percent ABV and about 110 calories per can. But craft beers often far exceed those calorie and alcohol amounts, while flavored malt beverages often have higher sugar counts.
Not a fad
Seltzers are “easy drinking, and you don’t get seltzer belly,” says Lysyj, who recently joined Boston Beer after stints at Welch’s, Weight Watchers and Heineken USA. They are “carving out a brand new space. Nobody is saying they think this is a fad, and it doesn’t feel like a fad.”
The seltzer category leader remains White Claw, owned by Mark Anthony Brands, which also controls the Mike’s Hard line of flavored malt beverages. White Claw has a 54 percent share of hard seltzers, according to Nielsen figures cited by Steinman, followed by Truly at 29 percent.
Boston Beer, citing IRI data, says Truly outsold well-known beer brands Stella Artois and Blue Moon individually for the four weeks ending July 28. And the seltzer category as a whole racked up more sales than all IPA-style beers in the year-to-date period ending July 2, according to Boston Beer. Those figures could not be independently verified at press time.
AB InBev and MillerCoors, which dominate the light beer category, are woefully behind on seltzer, with their brands failing to gain significant traction. AB InBev’s Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer brand has just 7 percent share, while MillerCoors’ Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water has only a 2 percent share, according to the Nielsen figures Steinman cited. (Notably, AB InBev is soon coming out with a seltzer variety under its Natural Light brand, known for its economy beer.)
Bon & Viv was backed earlier this year with a Super Bowl ad featuring mermaids, which have been a centerpiece of its marketing. “They really aimed it at women,” says Steinman. That has potentially harmed its ability to lure the kind of male drinkers that are driving a large chunk of seltzer sales.
White Claw’s marketing has been much more gender-neutral, using ocean wave imagery. Likewise, Truly’s campaign will target both men and women. The media buy includes
National Football League programming in addition to buys on Bravo, Hulu, Instagram and YouTube.
Key not only stars in the Truly ads, he wrote them along with his wife Elisa Key. Lysyj says that “sometimes [using] a celebrity isn’t a great idea, but in this case I think it is.” Key “represents what we’re trying to do,” she says. “He’s funny, he’s engaging,” she adds. “He’s the life of the party, and so is Truly.”