Founded by spirits mogul Sydney Frank and hip-hop artist Lil Jon, Crunk Energy Drink, Roswell, Ga., is more than “another energy drink,” says Tom Mahlke, president and chief executive officer of Crunk. It’s a brand that combines the flavor of botanical ingredients with a high-energy music concept.
“One of the things that separates Crunk is that it’s a true brand idea,” he adds. “It’s not a name on a can. Crunk stands for something; it really stands for this whole notion of high energy, self-expression and individuality.”
Frank started and ran the Sydney Frank Importing Co. and was responsible for the phenomenal marketing success of Grey Goose Vodka as well as Jagermeister. While on a hip hop tour sponsored by Grey Goose, Frank met Lil Jon and through a collaborative effort decided they would create an energy drink.
“At its core, Crunk means energy and energy means Crunk,” Mahlke says. “We think it’s a great brand name that’s symbolic of the category, but so much more around youth and youth lifestyle, which is our target audience. And that allows us to really go out and connect with consumers on an emotional level, a psychological level as well as a physical level.”
Crunk focuses much of its attention on music, as one of the co-founders is a Grammy award-winning artist. “Crunk is a style of music,” Mahlke says. “It’s not necessarily one genre of music. It’s really about the lifestyle of kind of letting loose, feeling free and high energy.”
In addition, Crunk sponsors bands and DJs in the beginning stages of musicianship. Although the sponsorships are not necessarily monetary, Crunk gives bands and DJs the opportunity to play in clubs and bars with the company logo backing them up.
“We provide T-shirts and banners at the show,” Mahlke says. “Their band is on our Web site and we connect them through Facebook. It’s a very viral grassroots marketing strategy that we employ for these different musicians around the country. We are really building the music platform as the ultimate base of our marketing position and our marketing strategy.”
Crunk currently is sponsoring more than 35 bands.
Building a base
The original 8.3-ounce pomegranate-flavored Crunk was formulated in 2003 and launched in early 2004. When the brand first got its start, the base of distribution was concentrated on the Southeast, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Distribution of Crunk traveled to small areas of New York, Ohio, Colorado and some of the West Coast as well.
Frank passed away in January 2006, leaving the future of the company in question, Mahlke says.
“So 2006, for us, was a bit of a transitional year. Ultimately his children, who inherited his estate, determined that they wanted to keep the company and basically restart the business,” he says.
Mahlke started working at Crunk in September 2006 and helped rebuild the infrastructure, including personnel, operations, market strategy, and even the product itself. The company did not change the original formula of Crunk, but new products such as Crunk Berry were developed based on Frank’s recipe, Mahlke says.
In addition, the company moved its headquarters from Carlsbad, Calif., to Roswell, Ga., in 2006 because “the Southeast was our original core market and Lil Jon and Crunk both originated in the South,” he says.
In early 2007, the company released Crunk in a 16-ounce can as well as a sugar-free version in both 8.3- and 16-ounce sizes. Distribution continued to expand into the Carolinas, Tennessee and Arkansas, and the company established a relationship with Polar Beverages, Worcester, Mass., to sell Crunk in the Northeast.
New flavors have been introduced, but the brand’s ingredients have remained intact.
“As the story goes, Sydney’s favorite ingredient that he included [in his beverages] was White Willow,” Mahlke says. “White Willow is from willow bark, and Native Americans used to chew willow bark because it contains salicylic acid, which is aspirin. And the core headline we get from consumers is, ‘I get the rush, I get the lift, but I don’t get the crash.’”
All Crunk flavors also contain botanical ingredients ashwaganda, horny goat weed, milk thistle and skull cap.
Crunk introduced a citrus flavor in May 2008, and a berry flavor launched in December 2008 with a flavor combination of grape and acai. The 16-ounce sizes in all flavors have proved to be bigger sellers than the 8.3-ounce cans, Mahlke says.
Design and future goals
The packaging of Crunk’s cans was a collaborative effort between Frank and Lil Jon, Mahlke says. The cans consist of a star around the ‘C’ in Crunk. The name Crunk on the package also is followed by three exclamation points.
“It’s designed to be loud, sharp and in-your-face-aggressive, and communicate this notion of high energy.”
The company also is exploring additional packaging options, Mahlke says. Looking forward to the future, Mahlke says the goal for 2009 is to continue to grow the brand’s distribution networks. The plan is to add more than 2,500 stores through new chain authorizations, he adds.
“Our goal is to continue to penetrate the markets we’re in, focus on those geographies that we’ve established now, gain more distribution with key retailers that we’ve been successful with in the 2008 selling season and continue to get more Crunk on the shelves in more places,” he says.