Each month, Ad Age creates and shares an exclusive case study with Ad Age Insider subscribers. Already an Insider? Instantly download the case study here. Or learn more about Ad Age membership levels and benefits here. This month, we’re taking a look at the White Claw hard seltzer phenomenon and unpacking its latest campaign and results.
How 2019 became the summer of White Claw
For better or worse, a significant chunk of the story of marketing in 2019 will be remembered as the summer of White Claw.
Even beverage industry experts could be excused for asking, How exactly did hard seltzers become such a thing? Ad Age Studio 30 examines the phenomenon in its latest case study.
Introduced in May 2016, White Claw managed to fly under the radar for much of its first three years on the market. Today, the nation’s dominant hard seltzer brand, which is distributed and marketed by Chicago-based Mark Anthony Brands, owners of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, is virtually impossible to ignore. From both a cultural and marketing standpoint, White Claw was seemingly everywhere last summer: lighting up social media with memes and a viral video from comedian Trevor Wallace and generating breathless headlines about product shortages—all while attracting scores of new competitors and setting the stage for an all-out brawl in the category.
White Claw and Boston Beer Company’s Truly, the top two hard seltzer brands by a mile, respectively, have thus far avoided confronting each other in their marketing and PR. In Truly’s latest ad campaign, Keegan-Michael Key directs the brand’s ire elsewhere. In one 15-second spot, the actor dumps a light beer into a plant; in another, he uses Scotch to polish a chair. White Claw, meanwhile, remained above the fray as another rival took a couple of not-so-subtle jabs at the category leader.
In August, Anheuser-Busch InBev posted an Instagram story video of a “seltzer showdown,” using a lie detector test to purportedly demonstrate the superior taste of its Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer over White Claw, which was dismissed as “boring.” The brewing giant thumbed its nose at White Claw once more in a stunt involving Trevor Wallace. Announcing via press release that it had stolen the comedian from that “lame brand” and given him a marketing deal, A-B InBev flew in the comedian via helicopter onto a yacht en route to a wine and music event in California, inspired by the fictional Catalina Wine Mixer in the movie "Step Brothers."
Most recently, A-B InBev starting running its first TV ads for Bon & Viv during college football programming on CBS, FOX and FOX Sports 1.
Sanjiv Gajiwala, SVP of marketing at White Claw, is nonplussed. “It’s incredibly flattering that the biggest beer company in the world has decided that our brand is the problem,” he says. “We just have to stick to what we do. We’ll continue to execute from a product standpoint and brand standpoint.”
White Claw’s momentum shows no signs of abating. Its year-over-year sales in 2019 rose around 260 percent through the Labor Day holiday weekend, says Gajiwala. Total hard seltzer sales were $1.1 billion for the 52 weeks ending on September 7, per Nielsen. White Claw and Truly, its closest competitor, account for 85 percent of the sales volume in the category. And White Claw’s leading share, now well over 50 percent, may have more room to run.
“White Claw is still growing at triple digits, and so is Truly. It seems like they have at least another built-in year of solid growth,” says David Steinman, senior editor of Craft Brew News. “There’s still a pretty low level of awareness of hard seltzers, and advertising is picking up. A lot can happen during the next six months.”