White Claw has Proven the Success of Gender-Neutral BrandingSeptember 10, 2019 - by Jessica Olszyk
As a brand, White Claw has quickly become ubiquitous within the growing spiked seltzer category. Many new entrants are fighting for market share, yet White Claw sits at the top as category leader. So far, differentiation between brands has been subtle, something that is sure to change as we enter the next phase of the trend. Specific flavors in particular overlap between brands – for example, some variation of black cherry, grapefruit, and lime flavors are available through both White Claw and popular competitor Bon & Viv. In order to understand White Claw’s unique success among a range of fairly similar brands, the speedy growth of the category itself must be explained.
Spiked seltzers owe a massive amount of their popularity to the overall non-alcoholic seltzer trend, as health-conscious consumers view them favorably as trendy, refreshing drinks with little-to-no calories or sugar. Seeing as bottled and canned cocktails are often very high in sugar and carbs, it makes sense that fans of non-alcoholic brands like La Croix and Pellegrino would embrace a flavorful and guilt-free cocktail alternative.
Since alcohol companies are not forced to put nutrition facts panels on their products the way that soda companies and other beverage manufacturers are, some consumers who are not so inclined to seek out that kind of information are not aware of the number of calories and sugar in their drinks. Most alcohol companies would like to keep it that way, as it could obviously be a turn-off for some consumers. Thus, many spiked seltzer brands’ decisions to keep nutritional labels on is a direct value proposition – it’s a move that says, “We’re confident our health metrics won’t turn you away. In fact, you want to know them.”
Enter in the target consumer market: young, health-conscious, craving a low-calorie option besides beer, and also – significantly – largely female. With this knowledge, early category leaders targeted women almost exclusively. For the founders of Bon & Viv, initial inspiration came from watching five women in a row order vodka sodas at a bar. Indeed, there was a massive hole in the category of malt beverages aimed at women, and there was a defined market just waiting to be fulfilled. In order to target women, a distinctly feminine package design was a must. The thin, tall cans, colorful and bold designs, and a lithe mermaid made the first Bon & Viv product massively popular among young women. The Instagram Effect helped the brand immensely – it was an attractive can, and was purposefully shareable on social media.
However, then-newcomer White Claw saw the other side of the coin. Phrases such as “dieting” and “watching figures” have traditionally been seen as “female” activities. Today, both men and women (especially younger consumers who may not have defined alcohol brand preferences yet) are interested in consumption choices that are generally beneficial, such as “eating better”. Crash dieting is out, and holistic healthful lifestyles are in.
While Bon & Viv and other hard seltzer brands are primarily curated for women, the more gender-neutral marketing of White Claw helped propel it to victory. White Claw cans are still tall and thin, but a neutral white and grey logo of a wave is still “masculine” enough for men that are watching their calories. Bon & Viv use ultra-feminine mermaids in their package design, while hard seltzer brand Truly uses floral fruit designs that may position them at a disadvantage with male consumers. Smirnoff’s design is also very female-oriented, with bold thin typography and pastel colors.
White Claw is a category leader today because men felt comfortable adopting it, significantly opening up the market. Looking back now, it’s difficult to name any cultural phenomenon that better represents the summer of 2019 than the explosion of spiked seltzer, and White Claw in particular.