Why White Claw, which has grown without a lot of advertising, is now embracing it
Of the many ways to measure the meteoric rise of hard seltzer, this could be the most telling stat: A year ago, category leader White Claw had six competitors. Now it has more than 170 brands nipping at its heels, it says, with new hard seltzers hitting the market on a weekly basis.
In the face of the new competition, White Claw, which has never really embraced traditional advertising, is leaning into it. Starting with a new campaign launching today—its first global effort—the brand will boost its marketing spending to six times higher than in previous years, according to John Shea, chief marketing officer for Mark Anthony Brands, which controls White Claw and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
White Claw, he says, wants to “get our point of view out there,” including “what the brand stands for and what the brand is about as a supplement to what the fans are already doing.”
Those fans include founders of social media accounts such as “whiteclawmeme” that have turned White Claw into a lifestyle as much as a drink. The brand often has no direct involvement. One high-profile example: The phrase “ain’t no laws when you are drinking Claws”—which became a rallying cry for brand fans in the summer of 2019—was first popularized by comedian Trevor Wallace in 2019 as part of a comedic video he posted on YouTube.
White Claw boasts that its fans have generated more than 4 billion brand impressions via social feeds, videos, hashtags and memes, which it says amounts to 46 times more social media mentions than competing brands.
"They did not build that brand as a mass-market, advertised-driven brand, they built this phenomenal success without those kind of traditional marketing platforms,” says Benj Steinman, president of alcohol trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights.
But the market dynamics are changing in the seltzer category, which notched $4.5 billion in retail sales in 2020, according to Morgan Stanley, as seltzer continues to lure drinkers away from beer. Not only is White Claw facing new competitors on an almost daily basis, it is fending off No. 2 hard seltzer brand Truly, which has made recent gains. ”It’s a massive battle between White Claw and Truly, where White Claw is well ahead but Truly’s trends are much faster than White Claws,” Steinman says.
White Claw finished 2020 with nearly 51% hard seltzer market share in the U.S., compared with about 24% for Truly, which is owned by Boston Beer Co., according to Beer Marketer’s. But White Claw has gained just 0.5 points of volume share year-to-date, compared to 1.6 share in 2020, the publication reported on March 22.
With the new campaign, White Claw is putting out ads that try to maintain its user-generated content ethos, while pushing a new tagline, “Let’s White Claw.” It comes from Accenture Interactive-owned Rothco of Dublin, Ireland, which won the account in 2016.
The brand and agency put various creators and filmmakers in control of capturing content meant to align with the brand’s carefree image. They include Brit Phelan, a German-American director and photographer based in Los Angeles, who is behind footage in one of the ads that includes scenes of a woman roller-skating into a convenience store and people partying on the beach and inside an empty swimming pool.
The brand expects to add to its roster of creators during the year, creating a steady stream of content.
“It’s really being done in a very different way than a typical advertising campaign,” says Shea, who joined the brand last year from Jimmy John’s. “There’s no shoot day, there’s no sets. It’s really a collaboration with these young, diverse creators from all over the word and across the country that are creating content.”
The ads will get a heavy presence on digital media in addition to TV programming such as the Kentucky Derby, Olympics, ESPN “SportsCenter,” and entertainment shows like E!’s “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
As much as White Claw plays up the user-generated tone of the ads, the fact is the campaign—and the brand’s rising ad budget—edges White Claw closer to the type of big budget, mass marketing traditional advertising it has managed to avoid for years. Last year, White Claw spent a mere $3.7 million on measured media, according to Kantar, which would not even cover the cost of what Bud Light spent to run a Super Bowl ad plugging its hard seltzer earlier this year.
It’s doubtful White Claw comes close to the massive marketing outlays Anheuser-Busch InBev is putting into its seltzer forays, which include a new Travis Scott-backed brand called Cacti that recently ran an ad in the Grammys.
Still, White Claw’s new spending surge shows that there are at least some laws when it comes to the claws—the ones that govern supply and demand.