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BEYOND THE HYPE

Hip to sip – what’s driving the PRIME energy drink commercial craze among young Saffers? We unpack the fad

Hip to sip – what’s driving the PRIME energy drink commercial craze among young Saffers? We unpack the fad
A child sipping Prime Hydration drink.Photo:Felix Dlangamandla|Young woman using smart phone,Social media concept.Photo:iStock

An energy drink owned by two YouTubers has been launched at a major shopping retailer in South Africa, with many queueing before the store even opened to get their hands on the uber-hyped product. We unpack what is fuelling the frenzy 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 owned by YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI, has attracted a lot of attention in South Africa, as it went on sale on Monday. The pair – with a combined YouTube following of 40 million and combined social media following of 100 million – initially launched the drink in January 2022. Since then, Paul claims the drink has generated more than $250-million (R4.5-billion) and $45-million (R818.3-million) in January 2023 alone. 

Paul and KSI stated on PRIME Hydration’s official site: “We’ve been humbled by the process of creating a real brand & surpassing some of the biggest beverage companies in the world.”

Bubbling up from the social media algorithms and hype, PRIME is also attracting attention for the apparent health concerns it potentially poses to its younger consumers. Since Paul and KSI’s following primarily consists of Gen Zs or younger, many have pointed out that the drink is not suitable for under-18s. 

With 200mg of caffeine, PRIME has already been banned in some schools in Australia, because it contains twice the legal amount of caffeine allowed in the country. High intakes of caffeine for young people can be dangerous and lead to increased risk of heart problems such as stroke or palpitations. 

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

PRIME’s founders are no strangers to controversy. Paul is notorious for his problematic behaviour, including old racist tweets resurfacing or his infamous suicide forest debacle in 2018. More recently, KSI faced a backlash for using a racial slur in one of his YouTube videos. However, these controversies have clearly not deterred their fanbase and perhaps even add to the virality of the products that they produce. 

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. 

It’s a perfect marketing and economics case study in that it shows both value and price and the human psyche.

The retailer explained how it had gone about acquiring the drink for its stores: “Checkers will always be guided by what customers want and started negotiating directly with PRIME’s suppliers in the United States early this year to secure large volumes of stock. This, combined with its established distribution and freight networks, enabled Checkers to bring PRIME Hydration to South African consumers at supermarket prices.”

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.”

Trend analyst Bronwyn Williams explained to Daily Maverick 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 highly visual bottles play into this mimetic desire – which is particularly strong among teenagers who deeply desire to fit in with social structures.

“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. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sarah Davies says:

    You need to clarify your statement about caffeine . It’s the Prime energy drink that has caffeine in it. Not Prime hydration which is the one being sold in South Africa. So I think that’s a key point to mention as this is aimed at SA audiences.

  • David Crossley says:

    I don’t wish to sound cynical but is this the case of “Fooling thousands of gullible youngsters at the same time.”
    This gullibility is further enhanced by the bonkers prices people are paying for this sweet, caffeine laden energy drink.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Human beings need thousands of years more until they reach a reasonable level of maturity. Only infantile beings can fall for hypes like that or pay excessive prices for torn jeans. Not to forget the dubious characters they choose as their idols.

  • Dominic Rooney says:

    Suckers.

  • Frans Flippo says:

    This has been going on for years in SA; just look at the number of overpriced cars on the roads whose main selling point is “perceived status” – the louder, the better, it seems (both the screaming colours and the sounds coming out of the exhaust pipe). Too many South Africans apparently have the emotional maturity of teenagers and it’s sad to see.

  • Frank van der Velde says:

    Please show us the science behind the drink. As far as I know no FDA or any other recognised body has overseen any controlled scientific study to verify the claims made for the merits of this drink

    • William Stucke says:

      Don’t be silly. All the FDA does is, when challenged, say that an ingredient is/isn’t actually harmful. Compare this with civilised countries, where ONLY ingredients that have already been proven to be safe are allowed.

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