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Hip to sip! Unpacking the PRIME energy drink fad that’s hit SA, too

The hit energy drink PRIME is now available locally at Checkers stores, and it’s debut made a predictable teenage frenzy. This article unpacks the hype around a caffeine-loaded drink that has been criticised as unsuitable for teenagers.

It seems anything can go viral these days, including an energy drink. PRIME Hydration, which is promoted by YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI, has attracted a lot of attention in South Africa, as it went on sale recently….. Read about the history and hype here

The drink began retailing locally this year, but going for R400 in some cases. It was announced that Checkers would start selling PRIME on Monday, 1 May, which was met by a frenzy of enthusiasm from fans. Many queued outside outlets before opening time, then quickly cleared the shelves. 

PRIME is being sold at retail prices exclusively at Checkers, although there may be other unofficial retailers or resellers. The Shoprite Media team told Daily Maverick that the launch “certainly exceeded all expectations”, adding that even before the product launched in stores it had sold out in 90 minutes on the Checkers Sixty60 app.

Customers could place advance orders for PRIME Hydration on the app from 10pm on Sunday, 30 April. 

As for preparing for large crowds of customers: “As the supermarket retailer who first brought Black Friday to South Africa, Checkers is well versed when it comes to putting the necessary proactive measures in place to manage large crowds and to ensure the safety of our customers.”

Like a ‘melted slushy’

Many who went to buy the drink said they were purely motivated by the hype surrounding the brand. Social media played an important role in fuelling this hype, providing effortless marketing and advertising for the product.

Not only is this because two powerful influencers were at the helm of the brand, but also because the high demand for the drink led to inflated costs that generated shock and more buzz online. 

Ames Hussain told Daily Maverick that PRIME’s high costs and popularity intrigued him: “I just wanted to see if it was worth the hype and price. I remember seeing it sell for around R200 a bottle before Checkers started stocking it… but it just tastes like a melted slushy – so sweet and artificial-tasting.”

Kwame Mathebula said: “I follow KSI and Logan Paul and I think most people from around 16 to the 20-something age group probably know about them […] I wasn’t ever going to go out of my way to get it but I just ended up at Checkers and thought, ‘Well, I’m here, let me check it out’. And I was just curious about all the hype about it.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: PRIME drinks can be potentially hazardous for children and pregnant women — here’s why

What’s the captivation?

Trend analyst Bronwyn Williams explains why young South African consumers seem so captivated by PRIME: “It’s a perfect marketing and economics case study in that it shows both value and price and the human psyche. Scarcity creates perceived value. So, because the drink is not available everywhere and is limited, not everyone can have it, it has real scarcity. 

“The high price point (yes, even the Checkers price is high for sugar water) in turn keeps the good “high status” and desirable – not everyone can afford it. Displaying a bottle shows you are fashionable (have taste or “get it”) and are high status, as in can afford it.”

Williams believes the concept of “conspicuous consumption” – the practice of buying products with the intent of displaying wealth and status rather than satisfying a basic need – can also explain why people are motivated to buy PRIME.

“Young South Africans are no strangers to conspicuous consumption – the i’khothane movement in the early 2010s where people would burn their designer clothing as a display of wealth exemplifies this. 

“Mimesis” is another concept Williams uses to explain why young people feel compelled to buy certain items. It refers to the idea of wanting what we think other people want, especially people with perceived high status. 

With PRIME, Williams notes: “The highly visual bottles play into this mimetic desire – which is particularly strong among teenagers who deeply desire to fit in with social structures.” 

She added: “Note on the duration of the PRIME craze – it’s likely to die down now that ‘the masses’ can find and afford it: availability and accessibility outside of elite or lucky circles devalues the good – if anyone can have it, it’s no longer aspirational or a signal of status.”

Even if it dies down, the PRIME Hydration craze is symptomatic of how captivating hype culture can be among young consumers in South Africa. And it is not likely to be the last unregulated viral product to captivate the attention of the country. Read the full story here

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