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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2019 and has since been updated.

In early 2017, Tim Gilligan chanced upon a new oat-based drink at his local cafe and decided to give it a try. He had a growing sensitivity to lactose, and his partner had a nut allergy, which had him looking for alternatives to almond milk.

Gilligan, who is a product manager at Capital One in New York, is an unabashed oat-milk enthusiast. He seeks out Oatly — the breakthrough Swedish brand that has become the face of oat milk — wherever he goes.

“I was an early adopter for sure, and my friends looked at me like I was crazy when I would trek across town to the only cafe that had Oatly,” Gilligan told Business Insider in 2019. “It is the Kleenex of oat milk. It’s nonpareil.”

Gilligan is hardly alone. Started in the mid-’90s, the Swedish brand has soared since it came to the US in 2016, spawning legions of fans and at least one Slack channel dedicated to it. It’s attracted a cult-like following and backers including Blackstone, Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Earlier this month, it ran its first Super Bowl commercial. And just this week, the brand confidentially filed for an IPO.

“Oatly has the wind in their sales,” Erich Joachimsthaler, the founder and CEO at the branding firm Vivaldi Group, said. “It’s a combination of excellent timing, knowing how to tap a discerning target market, a niche marketing strategy, and being razor-focused.”

The company has taken a grassroots approach to branding

Oatly’s rise has come despite it doing no traditional marketing. The company told Business Insider in 2019 that it’s always had a small marketing budget and no chief marketing officer. A small creative team works on everything from package design to product. 

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Oatly has leaned on quirky and irreverent messaging and grassroots word-of-mouth tactics. Oatly wouldn’t say what it spends on media but said spend had risen “exponentially” in the US. Spending on a 2019 outdoor campaign in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles totaled $1.2 million, according to the company.

“We don’t follow the traditional playbook; we don’t even have a traditional marketing department,” John Schoolcraft, Oatly’s global chief creative officer, told Business Insider in 2019. “Our secret sauce is that we’re inconsistently consistent.”

When CEO Toni Petersson started in 2012, he and Schoolcraft cooked up their rebranding strategy themselves on the latter’s kitchen table before hiring the Swedish ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors to carry it out. And when Oatly came to the US in 2016, it had its sales reps give away cartons of Oatly at indie coffee shops and encourage baristas to try it themselves, leading some to become ambassadors for the drink.

“They developed a really strong alignment with baristas, roasters and coffee-shop owners — the ultimate influencers for devotees of specialty coffee,” Lori Bartle, the president of the ad agency MeringCarson, said. “That’s serious word of mouth, as these are …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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