The Colorful Cans Taking over Instagram: The Rise of LaCroix

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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 yearsDespite 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 

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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:

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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.

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11 comments

  1. Really interesting post! The different, but successful marketing tactics of the brand show the power that social media has on both personal and professional business ventures. Many companies I think spend too much money on unsuccessful campaigns, instead of carefully targeting the audience that will boost their brands. The business endeavors  of LaCroix are something that many small business can follow to build followings from social media users and the rise of internet influence.

  2. I have only recently heard of LaCroix, I had no idea it was started originally over 30 years ago. It is cool to see such a large and prominent brand using start-upy tactics on social media, reaching out to a wide variety of users and fans. Organic content is trusted the most, and LaCroix’s current market share and success reinforces that. I love the inclusion of art pieces and even hair color expressing love for the brand.

  3. What an amazing story! It’s crazy how LaCroix has really made a name for itself within the sparkling water market. Usually you think of Pellegrino and Polar Seltzer water, but LaCroix truly has made a name of itself and I had no idea it involved so much social media. The bright colors clearly caught the eyes of customers, as well as the store placement; they are one of the first items you see when you walk into Whole Foods. Their outreach with micro-influencers really interests me; it shows the power of micro-influencers even though they have significantly lower follower amounts. Especially if they are convincing consumers to dye their hair the color of their favorite flavor, they are doing A LOT right! A few months ago I read an Adweek article on the power of micro-influencers and how productive and beneficial they can be (I can’t seem to find it online). Great blog post!

  4. I have no shame that I love LaCroix even if it is just overpriced water! A girl I interned with this summer actually was an ambassador for LaCroix but she said she had to drop it because they were really bad at paying her and following through. Regardless though, the colorful cans have me hooked and I don’t ever even consider another sparkling water brand when I go to the store. Great post though, I love that LaCroix is a prime example of how different marketing to millennials can be versus traditional marketing tactics.

  5. Great post. Hadn’t known about the LaCroix SM sensation. Someone should give their marketing person a raise!

  6. I liked reading this– what’s funny is I have grown up drinking La Croix my whole life. As someone who was raised in the Midwest, my family fridge has been stocked with this for as long as I can remember. I actually was shocked when I came to Boston and they didn’t sell it! The seltzer water trend has definitely taken off as people have shifted away from sugary drinks (I consider myself AHEAD of this trend btw…). Another part is their ability to have pretty cans that take well so social media… I have definitely seen and heard more people talking about La Croix (which I have just found hilarious because people are talking about this “new” sparkling water company). They’ve definitely taken advantage of social media as they’ve expanded across the country!

  7. Julia! My parents and extended family love this stuff, that like Hilary I’ve had this in my house for what seems like forever. I had no idea of their social media craze! How crazy but not surprised in their growth as I feel like thats what everyone is drinking these days- especially people trying to kick soda habits and trying to build “healthier” ones, etc. With a lot of new competitors in the market, its funny to notice that they all have their own colorful, fun branding/marketing scheme. I’m thinking Polar Spring- especially the seasonal flavors, and Spindrift! Great post and awesome examples! Viral-ity seems to be a great outcome for them! Awesome post- thanks for sharing!

  8. Interesting post! I was very curious about this brand and how it has gained so much traction over the last couple years. Although I haven’t seen La Croix ads on Instagram yet, I have definitely realized its presence in all the grocery stores, and in the hands of people walking around on campus. I think the key to its success has been and will continue to be its focus on genuine advocates and the sense of community it creates online. Knowing that the company will reward natural engagement and endorse the posts of users even with a small number of followers will convince people to continue tagging, posting, and promoting the drink. If La Croix has managed to catch the attention of Coca-Cola, it must be doing something very right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coca-Cola puts an acquisition offer on the table, and soon.

  9. Great Post! Lacroix has definitely getting more and more popular. I am a huge sparkling water fan, but Lacroix is not my favorite due to the taste. Although I do not love the taste of Lacroix, I sometimes find myself buying a pack because I see the colorful, pretty bottles and forget that I don’t like them. The packaging definitely helps the sales of this product. Also, I see Lacroix on Instagram all the time, which is good for the company because the more people see a product the more they are familiar with it/the more they are willing to buy it.

  10. I’ve been a fan of La Croix for a while and had no idea of their social media success! Super interesting how many campaigns and trends have taken off just because of the design of a can. I think the power of a social media platform has extended so far that the brand takes off even without the knowledge of any social media trends. The fact that so many people who have commented on this blog didn’t understand the range of La Croix’s social media’s reach, but still use the product, goes to show that the impact of a social media campaign can go even further than the platform itself.

  11. I worked in Ocean Spray’s sparkling business this summer, and I studied La Croix a lot — their marketing campaign, primarily consumer-driven, was ingenious and really thanks to their marketing team (who left last year to Spindrift/other companies, after which La Croix actually tried to sue them: https://www.bevnet.com/news/2016/national-exodus-as-evp-walker-heads-for-celsius-national-sues-spindrift). Taking a product with such high margins and using social media/little marketing spend to revamp it was brilliant, but I do find it hilarious to compare National Bev’s annual report to the La Croix brand…they’re so dissonant, and it really proves the marketing team’s vision/worth (I can see why National Bev tried to sue, haha).

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