In February 2022, PepsiCo’s Rockstar Energy brand launched a new line of drinks under the name Rockstar Unplugged.

Rockstar Unplugged’s flavor and nutritional profile was designed to appeal to female consumers. The beverage is available in three flavors (Blueberry, Passionfruit, and Raspberry Cucumber) with 0 grams of sugar, 0 calories, and 80 grams of caffeine (half the caffeine of most Rockstar drinks). Each bottle is infused with hemp seed oil, lemon balm, spearmint, and B vitamins.

Over the years, the energy drink market has primarily targeted male consumers. (It doesn’t take long to find an energy drink ad showcasing the extreme-sport world. Cue testosterone surge.)

Now Rockstar is striving to capture the other half of American consumers: women. Rockstar’s Unplugged line markets to consumers who want to increase “good vibes rather than feel an adrenaline rush. PepsiCo made this functional change in response to customer feedback. Over 90% of Rockstar drinkers told PepsiCo that they want a beverage that can lift their mood, not just their energy levels.

Rockstar’s product expansion is a smart move given the recent boom in the energy drink industry. In 2021, energy drink sales grew by 12.6% to reach $14 billion. If women, a newly-targeted consumer demographic, are brought into the market, this could greatly expand even more in 2022 and the years ahead.

Want to read more about food and beverage trends? Check out our Food & Beverage: An Industry Snapshot report for insights and brand rankings. 

Enthusiasm for cannabis-adjacent products soars

The Unplugged line leans into recent consumer enthusiasm for cannabis products, especially cannabidiol (CBD)-infused foods and beverages.

Many smaller food and beverage companies have released products containing CBD, but PepsiCo has stuck with hemp seed oil instead. PepsiCo’s decision may be due to CBD’s awkward existence in legal purgatory. Many small companies have sold CBD-infused products without FDA interference, but the FDA technically does not permit CBD within consumer food or beverages. CBD is used in EPIDIOLEX, an anti-seizure medication, and is therefore regulated by the FDA as a drug.

Using hemp seed oil allows PepsiCo to create a cannabis-adjacent product while side-stepping any regulatory issues. (Note that hemp seed oil is not psychoactive. As a plant-based product, consuming hemp seed oil is more akin to drinking herbal tea.)

“Turn Up Your Mood”

Rockstar Unplugged was marketed through a campaign titled “Turn Up Your Mood.” They wanted mood and music to be communicated throughout all elements of their launch campaign, including bottle design. Each of the slim, white Rockstar Unplugged cans features colorful swirls that are meant to represent “aura,” “music,” and “energy.”

Partnering with one of the leaders in music entertainment, MTV helped market the new drink with MTV Unplugged. This included a three-part music festival across the United States, starting in Los Angeles. Rockstar Unplugged also developed personalized Spotify playlists, and held a sweepstakes for an MTV Unplugged experience.

Did the product launch payoff?

Using data from QuestBrand, we see a significant increase in brand equity, and rising interest from female consumers, after Rockstar Unplugged’s launch. 

One of Unplugged's main goals was to create an energy drink that appealed to women. When we compare the percentage of women who report using Rockstar Energy products from January (37.5%) to August (43%), we see an +5.5% uptick over the eight-month span. This signals a growing interest from female consumers over time.

Rockstar Energy Change in Brand Equity January vs March 2022

Rockstar Equity pre post

QuestBrand. Base: US adults familiar with Rockstar Energy brand. 1/1/22-1/31/22, n=495. 3/1/22-3/31/22, n=485.

We also see substantial growth when we compare Rockstar Energy's brand equity from pre-to-post (43.5 to 49.9) product launch. Brand equity represents the overall value that consumers see in a brand, and is an average of four components: familiarity, quality, consideration, and momentum.

Of the four equity components, the highest growth was seen in consumers' perceived quality of the Rockstar brand (+10.6). This could have something to do with Unplugged's use of more refined ingredients, such as lemon balm and spearmint, in the new product line.

The energy drink also saw significant growth in consumers' purchase consideration (+8.4), a positive indication that consumers may be interested in trying the new hemp seed-infused options.

Overall, consumers were more likely to report that the Rockstar Energy brand was gaining momentum (+8.7) after the Unplugged launch than before, showing optimism for the brand's future.

Rockstar Energy still has a way to go if they want to surpass the leading energy drink brands (Red Bull and Monster Energy), but this launch was a significant step for Rockstar to capture attention outside their traditional customer base. 

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Catherine Ake

Content Strategist

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