Chris Taylor, director of the beverage management program at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership, watched in awe as White Claw’s sales skyrocketed seemingly overnight. 2019.
As a new entry in the relatively unknown category of hard seltzer, it was completely unexpected and had little to do with the company’s marketing strategy. White Claw’s rapid success was due, almost entirely, to a social media influencer.
“It came up with a slogan, ‘There are no laws when you drink Claws,’ and it went from there,” said Taylor, an associate professor at Hilton College. “The last thing any company wants is their liquor product associated with breaking the law, but it’s started selling out everywhere.”
The influencer, with millions of followers, flooded social airwaves with the slogan, even putting it on T-shirts. This created a fervor for a product that was completely off the beverage industry’s radar. Demand exploded and soon White Claw was selling out everywhere.
Taylor had never seen anything like it. No one else either, for that matter. Along with Hilton College researchers Cortney Norris and Scott Taylor Jr., he set out to research and explain this new phenomenon which they dubbed “rogue marketing”.
According to researchers, malicious marketing occurs when an unaffiliated individual creates and posts an informal message about a brand on social media that goes viral. Although the post is neither funded nor endorsed by the company that owns the brand, the viral status provides free and unexpected publicity.
In a study published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research, the team surveyed 210 people who couldn’t tell a significant difference whether a post they saw was from the company or an influencer. This means that companies will have to consider malicious marketing in their business strategies, according to the researchers.
“I think that’s something companies really need to factor into their marketing plans now,” Taylor said. “They will have to talk about how to monitor it and counter it, if necessary.”
From 2018 to 2019, low-alcohol, low-calorie hard seltzer saw sales increase nearly 200%, worth nearly half a billion dollars. At the time, the main reason for their popularity was that ready-to-drink cocktails offered more convenience and gave consumers the freedom to enjoy a cocktail without being confined to a bar.
Then the influencer dropped his tagline and sparked a 1000% increase in sales within months. Something outside of the business was driving sales, and while it wasn’t the path the company wanted to go, the growth and profits were staggering.
“It was this little product that nobody thought of until this rogue marketing happened,” Chris Taylor said. “And they are still there today. Each producer, from Shiner to Anheuser Busch, has five different brands of hard seltzer. It’s so flooded in the market now.
Malicious marketing is also impacting the luxury car industry. Influencers on platforms like YouTube and Instagram are making flashy cars part of their brand and that’s causing problems for companies that don’t target this audience.
“Ferrari is going through a really tough time because they have a lot of rules when somebody buys a car, like you can’t paint it,” Taylor said. “But these YouTubers and Instagrammers are wrapping up cars, putting inappropriate markings on them, and it’s really changing the way people see these markings.”
Taylor says a company’s name and brand value, built over years through carefully cultivated messaging, is everything. When the brand is damaged by external forces beyond its control, it can cause irreparable damage to the long-term results of the company despite the short-term profits.
Although the Hilton College team was the first to identify and study the phenomenon of malicious marketing, they believe it is only a framework for future studies to truly understand its positive and negative impacts. .
“We’ve just scratched the surface with this exploratory study,” Taylor said. “But with the explosion of social media influencers, it’s really a global trend that I believe is here to stay.”