How a Juice Brand Used Unpaid Celebs to Get Fans Clamoring for a Drink Made of Charcoal

The FOMO is real

Never mind goji berries, chia seeds and kale. On Sept. 9, Suja Juice, a trendy entry in the ongoing battle for our superfood dollars, released Midnight Tonic, an all-black, limited-edition beverage that it spent weeks seeding, without explanation, to health-conscious celebrities with active social media lives. 

The mysterious drink, of which only 1,000 bottles were available, crashed the site and sold out within three days of launch.

"The only thing we spent money on was making and shipping the product. No one was paid for their endorsement," says CMO Heather MacNeil Cox. 

Witness how Eva Longoria reacts in a Snapchat Story that makes compelling use of the platform's bumblebee filter. She also shows us the black-on-black packaging. Per the star, Midnight Tonic looks like a "shady bottle" of unmarked black juice until you've had a few sips, at which point you can finally see the labeling.

Kristin Cavallari and Jesse McCartney, as well as brands like Pop Sugar, also shared the bevvies. The posts, which appeared on Snapchat and Instagram, can be found below.

The campaign has generated 13 million social impressions so far, with a projected 16 million by week's end. Suja explains that, while each celeb has a large social fan base (Longoria's Instagram alone counts 3 million followers), they were chosen for more than their figures.

"We chose influencers that have been organic fans of the brand since the beginning, people that love and drink Suja on their own," says Cox. "The Midnight Tonic surprise shipment was a way to thank them for their support, and also re-engage in a conversation about something new and cool."

The effort is also part of Suja's 2016 "Surprise + Delight" initative, which rewards fans with unexpected gifts. The brand organized a social listening campaign for people who used hashtags like #caseofthemondays, #isitfridayyet, #momprobs and #lackofsleep, then delivered cold-pressed bottles of Midnight Tonic to their doorsteps, coupled with the hashtag #ItstheJuice. People could also opt to gift some to friends with a voucher. 

"When a brand does something unexpected, something that gives back to its loyal fans, it really breaks through in a way other tactics do not," Cox says.

Here's a shot of the box it came in:

Midnight Tonic is made of something called "activated charcoal," which, according to integrated pharmacist/CEO Michael Altman, RPh of Organic Pharmer, "acts like a magnet for organic toxins"—one reason it was once a poison remedy. 

It perhaps also explains why Santa gives you coal when you're bad: He's trying to extract the poison from your soul. 

Well and Good details what else can be found in Midnight Tonic—lemon, stevia, schizandra berry (a mental clarity and energy booster) and ginger. "Alone, [activated charcoal] has a neutral taste, so the Midnight Tonic has more of a slightly sweet flavor, with a bit of a kick, thanks to the ginger," the publication reassures skeptical readers.

Image credit: Well and Good

There's been a lot of debate about the real merits of superfoods, which many argue are hype-sucks that won't do much more for you than basic veggie-rich eating will. But it's hard to retain facts when Instagram is swathed with gorgeous pictures of exotic chia seed puddings and raspberry-seminola-porridge bowls, artfully sprinkled with quinoa puffs.

Pepper that stream with elaborate yoga poses and freshly-toned torsos, and you've got yourself the perfect storm for a cottage industry. The result is marketing that defies gravity.

But more than the FOMO, the mystery, the brand value and the harmless ingredients list, Suja attributes the success to its focus on the people that fuel it—a critical element whose value is sometimes lost when hype is on your side. 

"I think it is more important than ever to look beyond advertising, both traditional and non-traditional, to stay connected with consumers," Cox concludes. "We as consumers are programmed to see not only more, but also better optimized, advertising every day."

We'll drink to that.

No agencies were used (or harmed) in the execution of the campaign, which was strictly influencer- and fan-focused. Design agency Bex Brands developed the packaging, with Covet handling PR.