Future-Proofing the Energy Drinks Category
Updated: Mar 31
“Energy” is a fundamentally emotional benefit for consumers. It is only a benefit when it is applied when it is transformed into an expression of their desires, of their will, or their other, deeper needs. For some this can be being productive at work or being more actively present for their families; for others, it can mean uninterrupted studying, success in a side hustle, or a better, stronger workout.
This feeling of power, hope for performance, is what consumers reach for through the product. A blissful blank slate free of tiredness and hardship, where they can be their best self, unhindered. And for a long time, this blank slate of pure opportunity was an appropriate identity for the brand. Nike still clings to it through “Just Do It”, although “It” now means something very specific (being the best). Apple re-invented both itself and the mobile phone as a literal blank slate, black screen on white background; but now focus on rose gold and camera quality have shifted from an abstract possible to a clear common goal: social status.
This shift is seen everywhere across categories and is symptomatic of a new generational shift. The abstract, fragmented worldview of Gen X is now becoming residual, replaced by the Millennial dominant star in all its creative, networked glory. The codes and values that made brands successful for a generation (fun, individualism, effortless profit) have been replaced with one unique, often cringe-inducing equity: Purpose.
Purpose marketing is everywhere, and like any big hype, it can be overblown. It often results in dreadful “woke-washing” (remember the Kylie Jenner / Pepsi ad?), but at its core, it is based on a simple truth: the world is changing again, and not being progressive means becoming residual.
So, if we’re not making inspiring commercials with rousing music, what does this mean for energy drinks? Brand values like progressiveness can and should be expressed from the inside out, through all brand touchpoints:
Active ingredients: Caffeine, Taurine, and other “hard” chemicals have a role to play to achieve a feeling of efficacy and immediacy. Less sugar helps, but also “softer”, more nuanced and synergic ingredients like vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, or branched-chain amino acids assuage fears of a “crash and burn” and add a wellness dimension to the idea of “energy”.
Aesthetics: much has been said about the “millennial aesthetic”, but it’s not all Instagram and pastels. Clean, high design visuals with a personal touch are easier to identify with for younger consumers.
Extreme sports and high-octane activities will always be a great expression of raw energy benefits, but they should start to share a space with unbridled creativity, intense enjoyment of the moment, and the ability to turn personal vision into a reality.
Coming back to our core benefit; in most cases, the occasion will still be work; but the perception of work is shifting from something that must be ticked off, a formality to access the rest of what life has in store, to something that must be done well and with passion, as it holds the key to all of life’s rewards.
In the same vein, distribution channels must be re-visited; 2020 saw a jump in the consumption growth curve, as consumers working from home have embraced convenience in all aspects.
The list could go on, but the message to remember is this: In order to stay relevant and stay on top (or to successfully challenge the three market leaders), brands must invest now in strategies that infuse their existing equity with progressive cues and values.
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If you think we might be able to help understand which cues and values are right for your brand, or how to express them in a way that makes sense to your target consumers, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love talking about all this!