2014 Brandcameo Product Placement Awards

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Air: Come for Carbonated Alcohol Inspired Fun, Stay for the Vice Party

Posted by Abe Sauer on July 10, 2012 06:04 PM

It's water. It's booze "Alcohol-Inspired Refresher" with a dash of berry or a citrus twist. But you can call it Air. 

That's the brand name for the cutting edge of the alcoholic beverage market: carbonated water infused with alcohol and refreshing bubbles, named after the stuff that dares to defy the Helvetica fatigue.

It's a "refreshingly" simple branding in a market where "blackout drinks" carbonated alcoholic beverages once ruled.

But selling Air in a can — seriously?

Obviously, if "air" in a can as a beverage immediately reminds you of the Perri-Air "salt-free air" gag in 1987 classic Star Wars spoof Spaceballs, you're way too old to be part of Air's target demographic. The new Air brand is an "all natural," 95-calorie carbonated alcoholic beverage "perfect for getting your evening started, keeping the night going or just taking a quick break."

In the booming alternative alcoholic beverage market, Air is positioned as an effervescent, lighter alternative to everyone-get-blotto peer Four Loko, which became the poster brand for "gets you drunk faster" carbonated alcohol drinks.

Where Four Loko's cans are black and dark, Air is white and, well, airy. Where Four Loko's marketing featured nightlife and indoor club venues (and, controversially, on-campus ambassadors), Air's online videos — featuring a water-powered jet pack — highlight good clean daytime fun in the outdoors.

The fun in the sun angle is a central park of Air's breathy brand launch this summer. "Refreshing" is a term Air's communications use regularly, and the positioning, considering its competitors, is in fact refreshing. For example, a recent promotion brought the water jet pack wearer to a daytime baseball game at San Francisco's AT&T Park. Afterward, the founder and CEO of Air parent McKenzie River Corporation told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We’re not making something with too much sugar and caffeine. No, this is a thoughtful, revolutionary approach, coming from an innovative idea. Fresh water." (96 percent fresh water and 4 percent alcohol to be exact).

The brand's Facebook page features numerous images of cans of Air on white beaches and floating under crystal clear water.

But then, for all its positioning, Air is still "malt liquor," And when it comes to marketing malt liquor to hipsters, there may be no more perfect partner than VICE. It was after all the popular hipster hub that Colt 45 — the most malt liquor of malt liquors — turned to when it attempted to follow Pabst Blue Ribbon's success by recasting itself as the drink of the partying, young cool kids.

It's not all daytime fun, either. Air is partnering with VICE to host launch parties on the west coast of the US, inviting fans to submit photos of their nighttime antics. There was an Air launch party last week in Los Angeles, another coming up in Portland. The images are typical party scenes of young people in dark clubs. Sweaty, dank, and not exactly refreshing.

The nightlife angle is an understandable strategy for Air and there is no reason the brand cannot have a little of both. It just needs to understand that what differentiates Air is the blank white space. And try to avoid its fans being dubbed Airheads.

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