It’s hard to miss these colorful cans: they are popping up on everyone’s feeds, they stock the shelves of the local Whole Foods, and they are available in the fridges of every trendy startup. LaCroix is a sparkling water beverage that has grown from a relatively obscure Midwestern brand to a national sensation, especially among millennials, through a little bit of luck and some smart digital strategy.
It All Started with Beer
It did! LaCroix has actually been around for more than 30 years but its sales didn’t really start taking off until about 2010 (the same year Instagram was founded by the way). It was originally founded in 1981 by the now extinct G. Heileman Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The French name was actually just a ploy. The drink was invented as a way for the American company to diversify beyond beer. Evidently, it didn’t work out for them as they ended up selling around the turn of the century to the Florida-based National Beverage Corporation. Since National Beverage Corporation has owned LaCroix, the brand has come to own 10% of the market share for sparkling waters. Sales grew 30% last year alone to $225 million, and the National Beverage Corporation share price has been up 500% over the last 5 years. Despite a wacky 81-year-old CEO that has been known to go on some rants and create some PR issues, the brand has been thriving under its new ownership.
Extreme Makeover: Can Edition
With its new acquisition, National Beverage Company decided to reboot LaCroix in the 2000s with a completely new look. What came out of extensive market research and multiple test designs is the famous array of colorful swooshes so distinct to the brand. The “80s anti-design, punk rock aesthetic” and “not trying too hard“ look is meant to represent the fun nature of their nearly two dozen unique flavors, ranging from coconut to pamplemousse (French for grapefruit). The team behind the new design wanted to distinguish the product from other sparkling water products and help it compete with the diet sodas on the market. While some may argue that it has all the self-expression, informality, and sophistication of Picasso, others think it looks more like the “love child of Monet and Grandma Moses.” Nevertheless an icon was born. This distinctive look was important for the shelf-presence of LaCroix- it was one of the main marketing strategies to attract customers with the almost nothing marketing budget the brand had. However, with the advent of social media, the colorful cans became even more essential and LaCroix was smart in using their new advantage.
Social Media Game Plan
While it might have been luck that a 2002 redesign with neon pops of color would lend itself so well to the highly visual platform of Instagram, LaCroix made sure to maximize this benefit through some key steps:
- Making impact without money: A slim budget and young marketing staff drove LaCroix to make digital initiatives and bypass the traditional TV advertising that competitors were pursuing.
- Rewarding natural engagement: Instead, the team at LaCroix decided to nurture organic engagement and start a grassroots social media movement to build support. Instead of sponsoring or initiating posts from carefully selected brand influencers, LaCroix rewarded those that were talking naturally about their product. They made it a point to engage with anyone who tagged the brand, no matter what their follower count was.
- Capitalizing on micro-influencers: This led to fostering connections with mostly micro-influencers, people with thousands, instead of hundreds of thousands, of followers. LaCroix sent promotional coupons to people who posted on their own accord, with as little as 150 followers, because they tagged the brand when sharing recipes and experiences. By using genuine advocates to create a community feel and excited fan base, LaCroix appealed to the “millennial desire for authenticity and discovery.”
- Remaining attainable but desirable: In just eight months in 2015, LaCroix grew its followers from 4,000 to 30,000 on Instagram. Now the brand totals 120,000 followers on Instagram, 430,000 on Facebook and the #lacroix and #livelacroix collectively pull up 100,000 hits on Instagram. Brand engagement is extremely high, but the LaCroix experience has not been sacrificed. Because of the casual nature of these posts, LaCroix still maintains its elusiveness. Hipsters still relish in the act of “discovering” it through a friend or low-profile Instagram influencer, instead of being sold it directly by the company or a big-time endorser.
The Accidental Side Effects of Going Viral
LaCroix social media dominance has helped create and encourage its zealot fans to be creative in how they interact with the brand. More than just an alternative drink, LaCroix has become a cultural sensation. It has inspired viral artwork, merchandise, halloween costume ideas, and even a website where you can create your own LaCroix can. The latest craze is dying one’s hair to match your favorite flavor’s can:
While some may say that is extreme, there is no denying LaCroix has enjoyed a steady rise to success. So much so, that traditional beverage providers like Coca Cola and Pepsi are trying to get in on the magic with their own comparable drinks. What is the true test is if they can recreate the great timing, savvy branding, and clever social marketing that contributed to the phenomenon that is LaCroix.
And I guess some may argue that it tastes good, too.