Independent market research and strategy firm Lewers surveyed Australians to see how they feel about Asahi’s new Hard Solo brand extension into alcoholic beverages, which has been released to a mixed reception with concerns raised in the media and in parliament about the packaging potentially confusing young consumers.
Asahi’s move to take popular non-alcoholic brand Solo into the alcoholic RTD space is not surprising. It’s a burgeoning segment and the brand extension seems an obvious move for a drinks company of the stature and nous of Asahi.
Nick Foley, who heads up strategy at Lewers, told PKN, “For me, it seems like a useful way to inject relevance into a mature and slightly dusty brand. No doubt the success of Lipton Hard Tea in other countries has influenced Asahi’s thinking on this.”
But the launch has been met with mixed reception, with negative reviews led by concerns that the packaging and branding, so similar to the core non-alcoholic Solo brand, would encourage underage drinking.
Lewers approached its consumer panel of approximately 8000 Australians, comprising a ‘general population’, with national coverage and age ranges from 18 through to 65.
“We had 1,511 unique responses to our survey,” Foley said. “The responses to the launch are unsurprisingly polarising. There are mixed opinions on the appropriateness of the Solo brand as an alcoholic product and whether it may encourage underage drinking. About a third of respondents feel it is a ‘great idea’ and ‘would buy it’,” he said.
“Some respondents are intrigued and eager to try the new product, anticipating a refreshing taste with a potential alcoholic kick. In contrast, others are critical about the potential for confusion, especially among children, and the possible appeal of the product to young people. Some respondents express a preference for keeping soft drinks and alcohol separate, while others mention the need for clearer labelling and distinct packaging, with Hard Solo sharing similar aesthetics to Solo,” he said.
Comments on the branding and packaging that highlighted concerns over potential confusion included:
‘Looks too much like the real soft drink’;
‘It is unsuitable for the brand and would confuse customers’;
‘I like it but heard the packaging is tricking people’;
‘Packaging is similar that kids could accidentally drink as well’; and
‘Why would anyone release an alcoholic drink with the same name as a popular soft drink?’.
“It begs the question, is this savvy marketing seizing upon an unoccupied brand position, or irresponsible behaviour with the propensity to confuse the consumer,” Foley said.
But, for Asahi, the fracas surrounding the launch has been a positive. “Without any major campaign, 42 per cent of respondents are aware of the new variant – that’s no easy feat,” Foley said. “This launch monopolised ten minutes of discussion on Gruen during prime time TV, it has Independent MP’s voicing their disdain about the new variant on the floor of parliament and it’s stirred up latent controversy from the brand’s macho image, 30-plus years ago. I can only imagine Asahi is delighted with the exposure its latest NPD has received.”
Asahi's CUB division, which manages the Hard Solo brand, issued this statement:
“CUB strongly refutes claims that Hard Solo can be confused with regular Solo and that it is being marketed to minors.
Hard Solo is sold in distinct black cans with prominent alcohol markings on the front of the can with the words 'Alcoholic Lemon’ along with the 18+ logo, standard drinks and alcohol percentage in large and bright font. It is the first-time 18+ has appeared on the front of one of our alcoholic products further demonstrating our commitment to differentiate Hard Solo from regular Solo. The Hard Solo can has a mature look and feel.
“Solo is an overwhelmingly adult drink. 85 per cent of regular solo consumers are adults and it is expected to be purchased predominantly by 25-50 year olds. While it is reminiscent of the classic Solo taste, Hard Solo has a bitter finish provided by the alcohol.
“With Hard Solo we saw an opportunity to create a light RTD that would appeal to adults. We’ve used the existing brand equity of a much-loved and iconic Australian product to appeal to older consumers in Australia’s biggest growing alcohol category.
“We are not running any traditional out-of-home advertising, TV, or radio campaigns to promote Hard Solo. Importantly, our business is not advertising Hard Solo on social media platforms people associate young people with, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube.
“Hard Solo is for adults who enjoy both regular Solo and ready-to-drink alcohol beverages and is only available to adults who purchase it from liquor outlets.
“As a business, we are committed to the responsible consumption, marketing, and packaging of alcohol. The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme prohibits the marketing of alcohol to minors.”
Hard Solo is made at Welshpool in WA and Laverton in Victoria. This is a nation-wide launch and the cans are manufactured by Visy.