Can LaCroix Recover Its Innocent Reputation?
America’s favorite sparkling water brand is having a tough time
Pioneering sparkling water brand LaCroix has been under fire since last October. The brand that practically invented the Instagram beverage selfie now faces multiple lawsuits and increased scrutiny from the public, the beverage industry, Wall Street analysts, and The Wall Street Journal. They question the company’s health and the brand’s worth — and LaCroix’s quality and food safety.
I’ve been a critic of how the brand has handled its crisis communications the past nine months, and LaCroix’s recent open letter on Instagram didn’t improve my opinion.
Faced with two public lawsuits that have gained traction in the media, LaCroix referred to its drinks and brand as innocent no less than three times in the same post:
LaCroix Sparkling Water was developed to give health-conscious consumers refreshment, flavor and sparkle [writer’s note: a reference to carbonation and sparkling water — not glitter] with an innocent twist of zero calories, zero sweeteners and zero sodium.
The innocence of naturally-essenced LaCroix has propelled it to America’s top-selling branded domestic sparkling water.
We recognize that a brand that presents itself as pure, innocent and healthy has an obligation to its consumers.
That’s a lot of references to innocence in a single Instagram post, not to mention a wealth of linguistic errors. But it made me ask myself: is this an effort at subliminal consumer messaging, so that social media followers view the LaCroix brand, legally or otherwise, as innocent?
As someone who has written plenty of copy for beverage packaging, I reluctantly admit the term innocent twist is buzzy.
But it’s unclear how innocence, and certainly the term twist, in either the surpriiise! connotation or the physical (I’m twisting my body because I’m flexible) connotation, relates to zero calories, zero sweeteners, and zero sodium. All three zero qualifiers are actually the price of entry for any better-for-you sparkling water brand now. Consumers simply demand this of most sparkling water brands, so it’s hardly a twist on anything.
Unless the term innocence on a can is some new industry jargon for ubiquity and affordability, it’s unclear how that innocence propelled LaCroix’s sales leadership.
People proudly bought LaCroix and made it a top seller because (and this is praise) it was well marketed, omnipresent, and affordable. I doubt any shopper proclaimed, It’s the most innocent brand on the shelf! I’ll buy 3 cases! (Side note: I am well aware of the British beverage brand, Innocent, and its very successful use of the term.)
The third innocent reference is the only one that actually makes sense to me.
A brand as successful and game-changing as LaCroix does indeed have an obligation to consumers. That obligation entails owning its current woes and talking to its followers honestly, and Wall Street strategically, about where LaCroix is at, what concerns the brand is addressing, and where the company is going.
Perrier, the French sparkling water brand, was arguably the LaCroix of the 1980s. The optics of a Benzene scare in 1990 cost the brand its it water status and sales mojo for nearly two decades. Fortunately, the iconic Perrier brand today has rebuilt itself beautifully, in the wake of America’s revitalized love affair with sparkling water. Here’s to hoping that LaCroix can follow suit and do better.