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The Drum

‘Get ready UK': White Claw’s CMO reveals the hard seltzer’s global attack strategy

For much of the world, hard seltzer is an American curiosity like Dunkin’ Donuts or Twinkies. But that’s about to change.

Category leader White Claw has now launched in five global markets, including the UK, with 10 more on the horizon. The Drum caught up with chief marketer John Shea to learn more about the brand’s first global ad campaign.

White Claw has built its brand on social. Why go mass market now?

There are a few different things. First of all, we're going global. So we’re expanding the product around the world. We’ve launched in five global markets. We’re currently in Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland and Australia. And then we will launch in another 10 markets this year... this is the right time to launch a campaign to educate the world about what the product is. We’ll have a consistent brand image throughout the world.

This brand came out in 2016 and has had unbelievable growth. We’re the number one-selling hard seltzer in the hottest category on the planet. There were six competitors at this time last year. Now there are over 200. This category is as getting as competitive as any I’ve ever seen.

We grew 118% last year and we contributed over a billion dollars in growth in 2020 alone, which is more than the next two largest growth brands across all of beverage combined. When you look at the size and the scale, the White Claw story is phenomenal.

Tell us about the ‘Let’s White Claw’ campaign. What makes it different? How will it keep the momentum going globally?

It really has been a social movement as much as anything. So when it came to this creative idea, the consumer love is exactly where we started. The consumers have kept this brand fresh, bringing White Claw in their lives, their social feeds, selfies, videos, homemade merch, hashtags and memes. They’ve generated over four billion organic impressions just from memes. It has overwhelmingly been embraced by the fans and promoted by the fans.

When we were getting to the bottom of the campaign, the ‘why,’ what was it? It’s the combination of excellent product and it just caught the hearts and minds of consumers. It evokes this feeling of pure, uncomplicated fun which is what we used as the inspiration. White Claw is about your freedom and your people in those moments that just don’t get any better. So what we’re doing is partnering with creators from across the country, around the world. There’s no cast. No sets.

We’re just working with these creators to create pure, uncomplicated, fun moments that we’re then pairing with up-and-coming music that matches the feeling. We’ll be working with a diverse group of creators and evolving that throughout the year so the content always stays fresh. It’s a very different approach to advertising. It’s more like heightened user-generated content, which is really what's been the root of White Claw’s marketing all along.

In the US, this has been an amazing category to watch. My friends in the UK, however, tease me about Americans and their hard seltzer. Do you see any challenges when it comes to breaking through authentically in these new markets?

We’ve really just recently started our global expansion. The US is certainly farther ahead than any other market. In a lot of global markets we want to have that consistent feeling that comes from White Claw. Different markets are in different stages. Some markets need to be educated on what hard seltzer is.

We have an international team, and we have a UK-based team [working to] make sure the product connects with people on a local level in the right way and that the product is consistent across the globe as we roll it out. The way we connect with consumers and educate consumers needs to be done in a way that is right for that market.

Who’s your target demographic?

For White Claw, it's pretty expansive. The core has been this younger drinking-age consumer – 21 to 29 years old. They’ve been the powerhouse behind the social movement. But the consumer base has really expanded to just about all drinking-age consumers across different regions – a very diverse group of consumers. Male v female is almost a 50-50 split, which is also very rare for an alcohol brand.

But Truly said you’re the favored drink of bros.

White Claw has become a drink for a lot of people. It’s the number one hard seltzer in the nation by a long shot. You can’t get that kind of that kind of growth in that kind of user base. It’s a really diverse group that spans different ages and diverse segments, so it's far beyond any one group.

Let’s talk innovation. What’s next?

We’ve had capacity constraints in the past because demand has far outstripped supply. We’ve now built two new breweries. We have a third one that’s on the way so we should be able to meet supply going forward. And with that, we’re able to turn on our innovation pipeline. We’re an innovation company by definition, and we haven’t been able to innovate a whole lot in the last few years because we sold every can that we've made.

You just launched a hard seltzer iced tea.Hard lemonade seltzers have been very popular. Is launching a lemonade a no-no because Mike’s Hard Lemonade is a sister brand at Mark Anthony International?

No, no, no. We're looking at everything. This year, for first time, we’re able to launch 18- and 24-packs. Plus, we have White Claw Surge. That's just started getting out there. It’s 8% alcohol by volume [versus the typical 5%]. It’s available in Blood Orange and Cranberry and it’s only sold in convenience stores. The insight is basically a lot of people put toppers on their White Claw like vodka. So, with Surge, you don't have to. It's in there, and it's convenient.

We've recently launched Mike’s Hard Lemonade Seltzer, which is doing fantastically well. That's where we’re focused right now for lemonade and White Claw has its own things that are coming out.

I had an idea that was very meta. So millennials aren’t known for being big drinkers. Any thoughts about a non-alcoholic White Claw?

Um, we have a lot of things in the pipeline. I’d say we haven't launched anything yet.

That doesn't sound like a no.

I don’t think there are any ‘no’s’ that in this category right now. There are a lot of consumers coming into the category. There are a lot of competitors that are coming in this category. It’s ripe for a lot of innovation so at this point I wouldn’t say there's anything off the table. We’re an innovation company so we look at everything. We follow all of the consumer wants and needs. There’s a lot of a lot of things on the table and a lot of room for growth.

With the world opening up, you actually get to market at retail. It’s almost like you built the brand backwards this past year. What are you anticipating?

The ‘Let’s White Claw’ campaign is very optimistic. We think it’s timed really well as the world is getting vaccinated and opening up. And as we get into the summer, which is our key selling season, we’ve timed our innovation, our campaign and our media between April and October. You’ll be seeing a lot of retail activity, media, social media, digital television and expansion around the world. It’s a high growth time for the White Claw brand.

There’s massive runway. There are gains to be made on-premise. In bars and venues, we're just getting started. Growth is the name of the game. We’re continuing to stay connected to culture and continuing to grow this great brand that is taking the world by storm.

All right. Fair enough. Anything I missed?

No. It’s really about our first-ever global campaign. It’s about pure, uncomplicated fun, and then working with these diverse group of creators from around the world to help tell our story and show the feeling of White Claw. Tell your friends in the UK to get ready.

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