What White Claw® Can Teach Us About Brand Names That Win
Marketers need to focus on developing truly unique brand names, concentrate on being provocative, and being easy to process.
We love the phrase surprisingly familiar.
Just last year, in 2019, Instagram and Twitter became flooded with posts and hashtags about a low carb, gluten-free alternative to beer. White Claw became an instant internet sensation and a source of conversation within pop culture, with consumers frequently posing with the beverage and posting phrases such as “White Claw Summer” and “White Claw Weekends.” White Claw became a trending topic on social media and a household name among millennial men and women almost overnight.
One major reason for the brand’s success is its name. While many might describe White Claw as an odd name, it represents a truly unique idea which is fundamental to success in today’s digital economy. Unlike so many product names, White Claw is not descriptive. It does not try to suggest a point of difference or a benefit. Rather, it concentrates on expressing a distinctive personality and a provocative idea. By its very nature, White Claw communicates that it is not like the other guys, thus creating a new reference point and gaining early awareness, interest, and most important, early share.
The White Claw’s conceptual fluency plays a key role in its success.
Launched in 2016 by the founder of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, White Claw has the highest brand awareness and loyalty, as measured through repeat purchases, within the spiked seltzer category to date. Within three years, the brand experienced explosive growth, selling 29.1 million cases, and claiming a 58% market share – a performance record in almost any category.
Although many factors can contribute to a new brand’s success, creating and selecting White Claw as the brand name paved the way for both early and long-term success. While White Claw’s originality contributed to the brand’s success, another factor, conceptual fluency, played an equally important role.
Behavioral scientists define conceptual fluency as the ability to grasp a concept easily and quickly. Mad cow disease is an example. While most readers don’t exactly know what mad cow disease is, the expression gives them enough information and an image to grasp the idea, while the scientific name, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, is not accessible. Conceptual fluency is usually delivered by using familiar words or word parts. This can be easy to do in a brand name, but the hard part is being original and unexpected while still maintaining fluency. The brand Gatorade does this very well. A provocative idea that has a high level of fluency – we have a strong mental image of what a gator is, and we know what the word part “ade” is suggesting. Coca-Cola’s Powerade, which launched two decades after Gatorade, is not nearly as original and somewhat imitative. After 30 plus years in the market, Powerade continues to lag behind Gatorade. Currently, Gatorade’s market share is 72% compared to Powerade’s 16%.
Naming for broad appeal is a winning strategy.
Like all spiked seltzers, White Claw is regarded as a healthier alternative to beer. However, the brand name does not explicitly state this fact, allowing the company to capture and penetrate a broader consumer audience. Whereas the name Skinny Girl Margarita appeals to health-conscious women, nothing in the name White Claw itself alludes to a low calorie option. Thus, the brand does not isolate itself from potential consumers. Rather, the name invites consumers who simply want a new alcoholic beverage concept and those who long for a healthier option to consume without hesitation.
White Claw leverages color and imagery to increase recall and, in this case, support the idea of a lighter, healthier, and better for you option. The brand explains that the name “takes its inspiration from the legend of the White Claw wave – when three perfect crests come together to create a moment of pure refreshment.”
Knowing what has preceded a new product plays an important role in creating a new brand name.
In 2013, a new brand named “SpikedSeltzer” launched as the first brand in the emerging carbonated alcohol category. The phrase “spiked seltzer” is purely descriptive. Marketers commonly believe, “In order for us to be successful, we need to tell them what the product is.” In all classes, and especially in this highly competitive category, this is a very big mistake. Consumers can always figure out what the product is or does. Purely descriptive names leave little to the imagination and almost never create anticipation. The name Google stimulates and delights the imagination, whereas Infoseeker or WebCrawler only tells you what they are trying to do. Complicating matters further, the descriptive brand name SpikedSeltzer evolved over time to become the category name, and Anheuser-Busch ultimately chose to rebrand SpikedSeltzer to Bon Viv after acquiring the company in 2016. Unfortunately, the name Bon Viv represents another common mistake – imitation. It seems natural enough to follow historical precedent and think that if it worked for one company, it will work for our company and won’t be very risky. Although SpikedSeltzer, and later Bon Viv, was the first entrant, they found themselves quickly surpassed by White Claw in 2016, which by then had redefined the market.
Like many high-growth categories, new players are entering the field. Bud Light Seltzer’s launch will follow the 2019 debut of fellow Anheuser-Busch brand Natural Light Hard Seltzer. Constellation Brands recently launched their Corona Seltzer, which they plan to spend $40 million on in advertising.
The beer brands are working to gain share by leveraging their preexisting brand equities. Will combining an old idea from one category with a new idea in another category work? Only time will tell. The lesson from White Claw is that it is far better to move away from comfort and the expected and launch a unique, provocative, and highly fluent idea.
Positioning also plays a decisive role in White Claws success. It did not target a specific audience.
While many other spiked seltzer brand names skew feminine, White Claw as a brand name is gender-neutral. It does not skew in one direction, which further allows the brand to penetrate the entirety of the millennial market, not just the female or male market individually. As a result, White Claw’s customers are nearly evenly split – with women constituting 53% and men making up 47% of their consumers. When brand names are successful, they become embedded in the minds of consumers, and in this case, in popular culture.