When the pandemic took hold, canned wine brand Babe launched a sympathetic ‘Cancel 2020’ campaign. However, thanks to a clever direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy, it looks like this year might actually be one of the most fruitful yet for the AB InBev-owned business.
Sparkling wine brand Babe has deep roots in social media. Formerly known as Swish Beverages, the business was founded by Instagram influencer and self-deprecating comedian Joshua Ostrovsky (known widely by his Twitter handle ‘The Fat Jewish’) along with Alexander Ferzan and brothers David Oliver Cohen and Tanner Cohen
Ostrovsky caused a swishy splash when he debuted the company’s first product, White Girl Rosé, in 2015. A ‘pinkest-of-the-pink blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel’ firmly pitched at millennials, the brand itself was a cheeky nod to a 2014 incident which had seen a harrowing rosé dearth in the Hamptons.
Ostrovsky has previously admitted that he didn’t initially see longevity in the project, saying the wine was designed at first to sell to “women in the Hamptons that we knew with like, rhinoplasty”. But five years and several sparkling wine launches later, Babe has a solid grip on the burgeoning canned and rosé wine markets – the former of which is currently worth $70m and set to represent 10% of the total wine market by 2025. All thanks to millennials who want to sample different flavours and avoid binge drinking by the bottle.
The critical success of Babe – which is growing at double the rate of the wider category – saw AB Inbev snap up the business last year for an undisclosed sum, marking the Bud maker’s largest investment in wine to date. Though Babe has done some growing up since the acquisition (including a UK launch in Sainsbury’s) it has still very much remained true to its brand origins – maintaining a tongue-in-cheek tone in its marketing and talking to young customers via social media.
Former vice-president of AB InBev’s ‘beyond beer’ brands Chelsea Phillips is now general manager at Babe and oversees its marketing efforts. For her, it’s key that Babe maintains “some healthy distance from the mothership” while keeping the best bits. She explains it still has its own offices from which it has fostered its own culture rooted in founder spirit. The firm’s originators still work from this space, collaborating on creative execution with AB InBev’s dedicated agency Draft Line.
Phillips says the brand also takes a less data-focused approach than its parent company, instead listening to customers on Instagram to shape its advertising and product launches.
“We take feedback from the consumer base versus [relying on] a bunch of numbers. It’s marrying the best of both worlds, infusing what works from AB and matching that with the creativity that comes from a place that’s truly rooted in consumer centricity.”
Customers who have engaged with Babe’s social content are 1.5-times more likely to buy, she adds.
This approach to social has paid dividends amid the pandemic, during which the brand has truly capitalised on its consumer-savvy, social-first strategy to keep sales fizzing and build on its DTC efforts.
Where most alcohol brands are playing catch up, Babe has been selling direct to consumers on its e-commerce site and through platforms like Drizly since its inception. Amid lockdown, in the absence of on-premise options, the brand saw a 182% uptick in web traffic and a 7.6-fold increase in wine sales on its own website.
The brand also used its e-comm platform to drive digital sampling and expand its consumer base when in-person sampling options are difficult to come by.
Babe realised early on that its branding lent itself well to associated merch drops (think towels that say ‘Summer is Everything’ and ‘Out of Office’ beach floats). When Covid-19 struck it unveiled ‘Cancel 2020’ hats, which quickly formed the premise for a bold campaign which saw the brand give away $1m worth of wine to cheer people up. Recent giveaways have included a tie-dye kit for followers, or ‘babes’, bored at home and free cosmetic face masks offered via a direct mailer which drove a 70% conversion rate in 24 hours.
Partnerships have also been key as at-home restrictions have eased off. A recent stunt with dating app Bumble saw the brand promote a socially distanced moving truck in the heart of New York, predicated on the fact breakups are on the rise in lockdown.
The result of all this has been an uptick in the collection of relevant data that will allow Babe to target DTC customers with messaging showing them where they can buy Babe locally as lockdown restrictions ease.
“We already had the [DTC infrastructure] set up, but we wanted to turn into an actual experience to drive loyalty for people that have a good experience when they come to our site,” Phillips explains. She says the brand’s repeat rate is 49% versus a CPG benchmark of “25 to 35%.”
“We’re happy with the community we’ve been able to build through DTC.”
Babe also now has a better idea of who its customer is. It’s built up a ‘Babe Army’ of influencer ambassadors including Emily Ratajkowski and Kris Jenner – showcasing just how wide its net goes.
“We actually call her Lauren,” says Phillips. “We do have some over-indexed demographics but [as a brand] and now we’re talking to people who really value life overall. We were previously just talking to a 24-year-old white woman and we’ve realised as a team that there are so many more people we can reach.
“We actually have a lot of women in their early 50s who interact with us on social… we just want to make our brand a relevant experience for whomever wants to access it. So we’ve made a pivot to targeting affinities instead of demographics.”
As to what’s next, Phillips hints at a focus on sport sponsorship as that picks back up, but also “smart distribution”, all of which will be underpinned by its now rich DTC database.