• The Social PHD
  • Posts
  • Bubbling Brilliance to Fading Fizz: Unraveling the Rise and Fall of La Croix on Social Media

Bubbling Brilliance to Fading Fizz: Unraveling the Rise and Fall of La Croix on Social Media

I’m leaving first thing tomorrow morning to backpack in the Colorado backcountry. We’ll be setting up camp along pristine alpine lakes, hiking into a ghost town (used to be a mining town way back when), and putting our rain gear to the test against the backdrop of forecasted storms.

I still need to pack (and packing for off-the-grid adventures at 13,000 feet above sea level can take awhile) so let’s get to it.

I’m super excited about this week’s issue of The Social PHD. Marketers and brand owners love to get caught up in hype cycles – especially in the social media realm. But what happens after those award-winning campaigns lose their shine? What happens to the “overnight stardom” brands five years later?

And most importantly, what can we learn from these that will inform our own strategies?

The brand we’re going to learn from today once had a social game got so hot that my boss back then (one of the most renowned marketers in the world) used to email me links to articles about them with subtle nudges to study their playbook.

Gone Flat: Unraveling the Rise & Fall of La Croix

In the dynamic realm of social media, there are moments when a brand's presence transcends mere marketing and becomes a cultural phenomenon. Not long ago, La Croix, a flavored sparkling water, was one of these phenomenons. Its swift rise to social media stardom not only redefined how beverages are marketed but also created a lifestyle movement.

But five years down the line, La Croix's vibrant online presence has lost some of its sparkle, leading to questions about the brand's future trajectory. This article covers:

  • La Croix's remarkable ascent via social media and its subsequent challenges

  • Exploring the reasons behind its rise and the impact on product sales

  • The lessons it offers on the evolving landscape of digital marketing

The Rise: Bubbling Up on Social Media

Circa 2016-2018, La Croix's story on social media began with a seemingly ordinary product, but it was its vibrant can designs and a stroke of social media genius that set it apart. Leveraging the visual nature of Instagram, La Croix's eye-catching pastel packaging became the perfect canvas for influencers, enthusiasts, and ordinary users to share stylish, aesthetically pleasing content. The brand's strategic choice to remain subtle in its marketing allowed users to project their own aspirations and personalities onto the drink.

In addition to its visual allure, La Croix fostered a distinct sense of community online. Its unique flavor range, often accompanied by quirky and whimsical names, provided fodder for users to engage in witty wordplay and playful banter. These interactions created a positive feedback loop, enhancing the brand's likeability and relatability.

The brand began to permeate culture so deeply that memes, shirts and even branded swimwear became daily fixtures on our social feeds. I can’t even remember how many times I heard someone say “La Croixs over boys” in a given week.

The Impact on Product Sales: Sparkling Success

La Croix's surge on social media wasn't merely a digital phenomenon—it translated directly to bottom line business results. Data from Nielsen highlights the staggering transformation in sales volumes between 2016 and 2018. Sales of La Croix surged from 134 million cases to a whopping 383 million cases in the United States, solidifying its position as a market leader. The power of La Croix's social media strategy was evident: it had transformed a relatively ordinary product into a cultural touchstone, and consumers were drawn not just to the refreshing drink but to the lifestyle it represented.

The Role of Viral Challenges and User-Generated Content

A defining characteristic of La Croix's social media journey was its knack for sparking viral challenges and trends. Challenges like the "La Croix taste test" or the "La Croix flavor ranking" caught fire across platforms, with users actively participating and sharing their experiences. These trends turned ordinary individuals into brand evangelists, creating a snowball effect of brand promotion. The concept of user-generated content (UGC) took center stage, allowing the audience to play an active role in shaping the brand narrative.

This user-generated content (UGC) impact was profound. It bridged the gap between brand and consumer, instilling a sense of ownership in the audience. This emotional connection translated into authentic endorsements, leading to organic and relatable content that contributed to the brand's meteoric rise.

The Fall: Fizzling Engagement and Stagnant Growth

Despite its initial success, the tide for La Croix eventually changed. As the novelty of its brand wore off and more competitors entered the market, La Croix faced the challenge of staying relevant. Its once-unique visual identity became diluted as more brands adopted similar aesthetics, erasing the sense of exclusivity that originally attracted consumers.

But more importantly, the brand's lack of adaptability played a role in its diminishing engagement. While other brands were quick to adopt new social media features like Stories and short form video, La Croix remained rooted in its traditional approach, causing its content to appear static and outdated in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

La Croix’s engagement rate today on Instagram is 37% lower than the median engagement rate on the platform (median according to Rival IQ’s 2022 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report). This staggering shortfall isn’t all that surprising if you go look at their feed. Their content looks almost identical to their content from a few years ago. The brand is running a 2017/2018 playbook in a 2023/2024 cycle.

The Disconnect: Fading Influence on Sales

Think social media success does’t correlate with bottom line success? Well, the brand’s diminishing social media engagement wasn't just a digital hiccup—it echoed in La Croix's sales figures. Sales growth, which once soared, witnessed a significant slowdown. In 2022, La Croix's sales increased by a mere 2%, a far cry from the triple-digit surges observed during its social media heyday. This correlation between online engagement and sales reaffirms the symbiotic relationship between the brand's digital presence and its real-world success.

The rise & fall as reflected in this 12 month view of National Beverage Corp.’s (parent company of the La Croix brand) stock price back in 2018/2019.

Lessons on the Changing Social Media Landscape

La Croix's decline underscores the volatile and fluid nature of social media platforms. Trends that once resonated with users can quickly lose their allure. In an era where algorithms and content formats evolve rapidly, brands must be prepared to pivot and explore new avenues of engagement.

This is one of the main reasons why I advise clients to steer clear of building a strategy atop trends. It sets a dangerous precedent where you’re forced to keep leaping from trend to trend, or, as in the case of La Croix, go extinct with them.

Both are bad. The first scenario requires never-ending energy and resources to constantly refresh your efforts and the second is the kiss of death.

If new technology or trends are the best solutions to the most pressing problems you've got, great. If not, don't force them into your messaging or make your team suddenly adopt something just because it's trendy. That's not leadership. And it's certainly not innovation.

How to Rekindle Engagement and Sales

La Croix is struggling to gain followers across platforms, its engagement rate is dangerously low, and it is quickly disappearing from the cultural fabric. To reignite engagement and sales, the brand could consider revamping its social media strategy to include:

  • Collaborations with emerging influencers (especially on TikTok, where the brand has only barely surpassed 8K followers)

  • Leaning into entertainment more than product promotion

  • Creating more interesting content pillars that meet consumers on mutual ground (instead of requiring a shared love for their product)

Conclusion: A Lesson in Social Media Resilience

La Croix paired the growth of a popular product category with the latest social media trends of the time to rise to fame. But their inability to adapt to a world that looks much different than just 5 years ago offers a gold mine of lessons for marketers and businesses.

Its rise from obscurity to nationwide fame exemplifies the power of strategic branding, community-building, and social media. Conversely, its fall underscores the necessity of staying adaptable, innovative, and attuned to changing audience preferences.

As we reflect on La Croix's journey, it is evident that while the bubbles of online fame may pop, the lessons it imparts can inspire the next wave of social media success stories.

What will yours be?