The power of marketing to persuade is an interesting phenomenon in the age of Instagram because, stated simply, some ideas look better in pictures than they sound by description. For example, most consumers offered a lemonade spiced with charcoal and salt and served in a shampoo bottle would probably decline, as it doesn’t sound like a terribly refreshing drink.
But, as it turns out, it surely looks like one – a lesson learned by wellness brand Dirty Lemon in 2015 when they first rolled out their unique take on lemonade via Instagram as a DTC shopping experience.
In fairness, not all Dirty Lemon drinks have charcoal in them – though it is their most popular product, as it is advertised to “improve digestion, stimulate liver function and gently cleanse your system of impurities,” according to the Dirty Lemon website. They also offer more standard wellness add-ins: Customers can choose from infusions of ginseng, turmeric, collagen and (most recently) CBD. All of the drinks contain salt, but it isn’t quite Morton’s table salt. Dirty Lemon uses small amounts of pink Himalayan sea salt to boost electrolytes in its beverages.
On the whole, Founder Zak Normandin noted, the drinks are intended to be a wellness product that is not a chore or challenge to consume.
"The beverages were formulated to be enjoyed as part of your everyday routine," he said, noting that he chose lemonade as the base product because lemons are high in vitamin C and help with digestion, and because it is a well-known and beloved beverage. Instead of asking people to pursue wellness with big lifestyle changes, Dirty Lemon aims to give people a healthier version of a product they already enjoy.
More than just an interesting take on an old product, Dirty Lemon distinguished itself early on with a rather unique sales mechanism. Instead of offering website ordering, the purchasing system is based on text messaging. The customer visits the website and creates an account that links their card number to their phone number, then texts their order to the company. Customers must buy a minimum of six drinks for $65.
If that sales method seems a bit friction-filled, it is also strategic, Normandin pointed out. In the brand’s early days, a buzz was created around the product as consumers started appearing in trendy local places carrying their special lemonade in shampoo bottles. Word got out that the product couldn’t be found at any store. That gave the brand the feel of a secret club, Normandin noted, which sharpened curiosity and enthusiasm for the product.
More important, however, Dirty Lemon had developed not just a way to sell to their customers, but also a direct channel into all of their individual product purchasing habits.
“Imagine if Coca-Cola had a profile on every person who has purchased Diet Coke over the last 30 years. They would be able to create a new product to sell to the consumers that they’re now losing – the people that used to drink Diet Coke but aren’t drinking it anymore,” Normandin told the Financial Times.
In fact, it seems Coca-Cola imagined just that – in late 2018, the company led a $15 million investment into Iris Nova, Dirty Lemon’s parent firm, which Normandin founded to expand the sell-by-text concept to other types of boutique goods.
According to Normandin, Dirty Lemon is a brand in transition. Though it got its start advertising on social media, the brand has since pulled back and decided to channel more of its funds toward developing its next generation of products to be sold via text message, and new ways to develop that channel.
Texting, Normandin noted, is “the most ubiquitous form of communication on Earth.” He believes Dirty Lemon and Iris Nova have only just scratched the surface of its potential.