By now you have no doubt tried White Claw Hard Seltzer, the wildly popular, alcoholic cousin of La Croix. After White Claw, a dozen other brands have rushed the scene, changing the way people get their buzz. Since the repeal of Prohibition, America has had a cocktail culture. Bartenders hold a special role in social gatherings, and mixing cocktails is viewed as a craft.
Wine, whiskey and beer, in all their variations, have been endlessly tinkered with to include hundreds of varietals, flavors and additive notes. White Claw and its lightly flavored friends have upended all of the tradition, and shove craft aside to get to the desired state. Buzzed. People who drink it choose to avoid any ceremony when it comes to their drinks.
This is the logical conclusion to 30 years of light beer, wine cooler and malt beverage domination. We were trained by soda and soft drink brands. Don't worry about the ingredients—enjoy the pleasant taste and the buzz. But let's get rid of that annoying flavor.
White Claw does taste good. But the slew of alcoholic seltzer and water copycats are pushing even further past experience. What if you could get drunk without having to taste anything at all? And sales have proven that at least some segment favors this. Just the buzz, please.
We are becoming increasingly comfortable dispatching the ceremony. The experience. Why go to a restaurant when we can order, pay and eat in our car? It can all be consumed during the commute, so who needs the napkin draped across your lap or the pepper ground fresh? Why go to the movies when you can stream it? On your phone. In the subway. Who cares what the director intended? We prefer to watch this way, while tabbing back and forth to Instagram.
Experience is a huge marketing buzzword. User experience, customer experience, experience strategy. In an effort to create memorable connections (and thus, word of mouth and loyalty), companies are putting ever more resources toward designing experiences that strengthen the brand. The growth of the alcoholic seltzer category demonstrates that people want less.
We want to complete a task, meet a goal, get something done or merely live our lives. It's that simple. We want to choose when we will interact with a company and do it on our terms. When we visit Disneyland, we are thrilled by the immersion in the Disney brand. When we want to consume, streaming it is just fine, thanks.
People are demonstrating more and more interest in category level benefit—get me drunk—than they are in individual brand expressions. The growth of coffee chains like Dutch Bros. is an example. They have eliminated the café experience popularized by Starbucks and its legion of lookalikes to serve your caffeine in a fast yet pleasant way. Get in, smile, get out with your coffee.
Brands aren't dying. Far from it. White Claw is proof. It is proving, however, that what people want and expect from brands is changing. Superfluous add-ons aren't necessary, or even desired, by a growing segment of consumers. Just deliver what they want. Nutrition. Entertainment. A buzz. Nothing more, nothing less.