Sampson, who until a few months ago worked for a vodka distillery on Nantucket Island, began selling Hi Ball out of the back of his car in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. After a fashion, the clear drinks caught on, and are gaining something of a cult following. Popular among extreme athletes and other sports enthusiasts on the West Coast, Sampson wanted to seed the brand within New York's high-voltage creative community.
After plenty of sampling events, stickering in Williamsburg and on the LES, and word of mouth, Sampson met Ben Nabors, event director for thehappycorp global, a mostly digital creative shop founded by Doug Jaeger and helmed by Jaeger, Matt Spangler, and Rob Hudak. (Full disclosure: the happycorp creates an original cartoon each month in Media magazine with a unique multimedia component).
So, Hi Ball and happy hooked up--and now Hi Ball is the drink of choice at events staged by thehappycorp and in its Soho office. Sampson and Nabors concocted a product placement deal of sorts to stock thehappycorp's office with cases of Hi Ball tonic waters, club sodas, and lemon and lime, wild berry, and orange sodas each week. The 32-milligram drinks range from $1.50 to $2.50 apiece, and have less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. The drinks have no sugar and no carbs. Yes. No sugar and no carbs.
Of Hi Ball, "We're throwing it out there to see who likes it. The product is really for everybody, but creative people kind of get it right away," Sampson says. "The packaging is fun. The drinks taste good. New York's full of driven, fast-paced people who are always looking for an edge, for an advantage. Creative people drink it for an extra boost; they work some long hours, it kind of fuels them. When you're working, you just want something that's refreshing."
But Hi Ball and happy have concocted something that goes beyond product placement to something resembling engagement and the promise of constant, daily interaction between the drink and the agency. And thehappycorp will give Hi Ball active exposure to mailing list subscribers, Web site visitors, colleagues, clients, and friends.
By all accounts, happycorp staffers are practically free-basing the stuff. "We're getting weekly shipments. We took a liking to it," says Chris Ahn, spokeswoman for thehappycorp, adding: "It has such an immediate effect."
Sampson figures--and he's quite right--that happycorp staffers will generate viral buzz on the drink, integrate it into sponsored events, and leverage it with other clients, not to mention incorporating the brand into unanticipated stunts.
While Hi Ball does have distribution in New York through Phoenix Beverages, it remains a small outfit and doesn't do upfront cash deals--making it hard to compete with the likes of the Bull. But, as Sampson says, "we're rich in product. We want the product in creatives' hands."
Next stop: JWT?
Tobi Elkin is editor of MEDIA and OMMA magazines.