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  • Elva Lei

Fizz Fatigue: The Overwhelming Sea of Hard Seltzer

Mar. 28, 2024

By: Elva Lei


As college students, we are all too familiar with the feeling of being bombarded by choices – from picking our majors to selecting a study snack for our late-night study sessions. However, there’s one realm where the abundance of options might have just reached its peak: hard seltzers. After the chaos of studying and trying to pull yourself out of unemployment, you may find yourself wanting to celebrate with a bit of booze. Yet, amidst the aisles of the liquor store, the shelves seem to be crowded with hard seltzer brands. Has the market for hard seltzers become overly saturated?


What are Hard Seltzers?


Also known as spiked seltzer or hard sparkling water, hard seltzers are essentially alcoholic sparkling water beverages infused with various flavors. What sets them apart from traditional cocktails or beers is their light and refreshing taste, coupled with lower calorie and sugar content. These drinks became overly popular in 2018 and have continued to grow in popularity with Gen-Z and millennials. Their rise to fame can be attributed to their convenience, often packaged in cans perfect for on-the-go consumption, as well as their appeal to health-conscious consumers looking for a lighter alternative to other alcoholic beverages. Specifically, White Claw has been dominating the market since hard seltzers became popular. The brand was able to capitalize on health trends in 2019, such as the keto diet, by positioning its products as a guilt-free indulgence. Due to White Claw’s success, beverage companies saw an opportunity to meet the demand for lighter, more refreshing options with hard seltzers.


Courtesy of SXSW


What’s the Difference? 


As more liquor brands are producing their version of hard seltzer, what is the difference between each drink? Besides their packaging, the truth is there is none. Whether it be White Claw, Truly, or High Noon, they all have the same features. At their core, these drinks typically consist of low-sugar, low-calorie, and “natural” fruit flavors such as cherry or lime. As a result, the differences in taste between brands are often subtle and may not be discernible to the average consumer. So how does each brand actually differentiate itself from its competitors? The answer is sponsorship and digital marketing. 


Courtesy of Reuters


Sport Sponsorships 

  • Large brands have recently increased their involvement in sports sponsorships. In October 2023, Truly Hard Seltzer became the official hard seltzer of the National Hockey League. This partnership makes perfect sense as alcoholic beverages and watching sports games go hand-in-hand. These sporting events attract young adults who are the prime consumers of hard seltzers. By associating themselves with sports leagues like the NHL, hard seltzer brands gain exposure to a highly engaged audience and position their products as the ideal refreshment for post-game celebrations and social gatherings. When consumers see their favorite athletes or teams endorsing a particular hard seltzer brand, it creates a sense of trust and familiarity, which makes consumers more likely to choose that specific brand when faced with various options at the store.


Courtesy of Not So Professional Beer Blog


Social Media Marketing

  • With the rise of social media, it’s no surprise that these brands are advertising through various platforms such as TikTok. Nectar Hard Seltzer, the first Asian-inspired hard seltzer, is a prime example of how content creation is used to drive demand for a product. In late 2020, Nectar was a failing hard seltzer brand with no distribution channels. As a last-resort effort,  they posted a TikTok video about how their brand almost failed, which got over 500,000 views. Based on that video alone, they were able to convince 2 family-run liquor stores in Los Angeles to drop their products where the turnout they received was lines that went around the block.  


  • This success led to them producing more content on TikTok, documenting their interactions with consumers sampling their products in-store. This form of content style allows not only the brand to engage with consumers one-on-one but also to build an authentic brand image by showcasing raw reactions to their beverages to the TikTok audience. On top of this, they make videos about how their product is performing and merchandised at each distributor. Not only is this interesting to consumers to learn about their products, but we can see how hard the creators work to make sure their brand is successful, which fosters a sense of community and affinity to the brand. Today, Nectar Hard Seltzer is stocked in over 2,500 stores. This case is a model example that demonstrates authentic social media marketing can best connect brands with their audiences, providing them with a unique and engaging brand experience that can more strongly influence their purchasing decisions.


Courtesy of TikTok


As the hard seltzer market continues to expand and evolve, it's clear that differentiation among brands extends beyond what's inside the can. Whether it’s celebrating landing that job offer or unwinding after your finals, the choice of hard seltzer has become intertwined with the moments and milestones of everyday life. Each brand seeks to carve out its niche, not just through flavor profiles, but through the stories they tell and the values they embody. 




 

Elva Lei is a junior studying economics and business studies. She is passionate about social media trends, makeup, and finding good eats around NYC.


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