In a world where identity is everything, yet identity is in constant flux, a few brands have decided to proclaim who they are loudly and proudly on their packs. And they’re inviting consumers to join them too. Is it true that when everything else is in flux, consumers are simply seeking a feeling of belonging? We ask, just why are an increasing number of drinks brands so overtly aligning with specific identities?
We live in an age where who you are, who you want to be, is not fixed. Gender is no longer binary, if it ever was. Meanwhile, there’s been an examination of privilege and of an individual’s place in society. Momentum around the BLM movement has shone an increased focus on black culture and pride that has rippled across other cultures, ethnicities, and minorities. And debates surrounding the world’s borders, the world’s refugees, who is welcomed, and who is not, abounds. These are just a few, very specific examples of how a sense of identity, and what that means, is currently shaping our view of the world, and our place within it.
And on the seemingly frivolous, less important, but extremely prolific end of the scale, we also live in a world where a simple name has become weaponised. But it’s not a name or an identity you give to yourself. Oh no. The world gets to decide if you’re a Karen or not.
One can of Karen, please
If you’re not familiar – how could you not be? – the term is even listed in Dictionary.com. I’ll let them explain: “Karen is a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviours.”
So it’s perhaps surprising you can now buy yourself a drink that proudly proclaims that you are one. Or at least, that’s what it says on the can. Step forward Mom Water, a fruit-infused vodka water brand (that’s right, no bubbles equals not a seltzer) from the US. Its packaging invites you to ‘Meet the Mom Squad’, which consists of flavours including Sandy (Sandy is Coconut Mango flavoured Mom Water, and she is mellow, chill, and balanced. Sandy takes you to a warm, breezy tropical beach vacation), Julie (Julie is Passion Fruit flavoured Mom Water, and she is witty, light-hearted, and spontaneous), and Susan (Susan is Strawberry Kiwi flavoured Mom Water and is kind, passionate, candid, and before you know it, your new best friend).
There’s also a Linda, Carol, Nancy, and interestingly enough, a Karen. A whole can of Karen. According to the brand, Karen is Lemon Blueberry flavored Mom Water, “and she is bold, daring, and unique”. Though it’s a gentle approach, the brand is certainly flirting with a tongue-in-cheek awareness of what that name has come to mean.
Gather your people
So, what’s the thinking behind such a brand? It was created by Bryce and Jill Morrison, a southern Indiana couple “in search of the perfect poolside drink that wasn’t loaded with sugar and could keep them feeling refreshed on a hot summer day”. After one of their kids accidentally grabbed one of Jill’s homemade boozy bottles from the fridge, Bryce suggested she label it ‘Mom’, and a brand was born.
It’s now available in 28 US States, so the brand’s very specific identity, brand world, and flavour descriptors have clearly resonated with consumers. On the face of it, they reflect the brand’s easy-to-drink ethos. The names reflect that they’re relatable, unchallenging, approachable. Or in Karen’s case, assertive. We know them. They invite those who can relate. They say to those consumers, we’re for you.
Seemingly they did that so well, that now the dad’s need some of their own, we’re assuming because holding a pastel coloured can with a girl’s name on it, is still too much of a challenge for some dudes. Sigh.
Manly, like a dad
Newly launched, Dad Water proclaims its flavours, named Tom, Steve, Rodney, and Gary are “legends in their own minds”. These fruit infused tequila waters are “high quality dudes”, with “higher quality ingredients”. Thank God for the sake of all that is masculine, that these are housed in stubby cans, rather than Mom Water’s dainty slim can format. Because that would be confusing.
We’ve some proper, robust, manly primary colours here too – grrrr. And there’s some stripes and stuff that vaguely suggest sports, because, men. Other taglines include “I don’t know, go ask your mom”. And according to the brand: “Dad thinks he is as smooth as this drink.” So far, so unchallenging, so middle America. Which is such a vast market, this safe play for relatability makes sense. That’s a hefty market to recruit from.
Marginalized representation matters
But relatability, and a sense of belonging become that much more important when you in fact belong to more marginalized groups. And so, brand new, is Gay Water, created by Spencer Hoddeson, queer influencer and previous Head of Corporate Social for Yahoo. The canned vodka soda brand has been created by and for the LGBTQ+ community. Its bold name, its creators say, aims to destigmatize the word 'gay'.
According to the brand, for many years, the term 'gay water' has been known within the queer community as a colloquialism for a vodka soda. The launch of Gay Water, it says, aims to bring that phrase into the mainstream, “as one of the first alcoholic beverages founded and grounded in the LGBTQ+ community”.
It says: “At its earliest definition, ‘gay’ means ‘happy,’ yet over the years perception of the word shifted to negative as people began using it as a pejorative label for people and actions. The company is on a mission to reclaim the word by making it visible every day and for everyone - at local bars, restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, and in peoples' homes.”
Claiming an identity
Is it a funny coincidence that all these brands claiming their crew, their community, their people, and aiming to represent them, come from the emerging boozy water category? In Gay Water’s case, the liquid choice has established roots. In Mom and Dad Water, the search for a sessionable, approachable liquid that doesn’t bloat its drinkers, was the reason for its selection. But in many ways, the category is a blank canvas for brands to assert their identity upon. Its lack of connotations, its lack of strong association with gender, or any specific demographic is key.
So why are we seeing a cluster of brands emerge now? Self-identity has perhaps never been under the spotlight quite so intensely as it is now. Protecting, fighting for, and educating wider society about that identity is key for marginalised groups. This we know. This we see. But it’s interesting that those belonging to groups that have been significantly less challenged, who are facing what they may perceive as a little push back now, are wanting to stand behind their identities too. The question of privilege, and the examination of how that is daily exercised in society is perhaps most vocally and prominently described and demonstrated in the very emergence of such a thing as a ‘Karen’. And now, here is a drink with this much maligned name on the can.
Who we are matters, and what we stand for matters. These are long held truths. But in this visual, digitally connected world, how we demonstrate those things, matters more and more each day. Expect more overtly named products to emerge, that invite their communities, their people, to celebrate, protest, or simply just gather, to proclaim who they are.
Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?
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