Dawn queues, carnage and price gouging. Reaction has been extreme since the release of Prime, the brightly-packaged flavoured drink launched by KSI, a British influencer, and his US counterpart and sometime boxing rival, Logan Paul.
Just after Christmas, videos circulated of Aldi supermarket shoppers climbing over each other to get their hands on the luridly coloured bottles, targeted at tweens and teens. This week, Sainsbury’s became the latest retailer to stock it, swiftly issuing a request that customers not call the switchboard to track down the elusive soft drink. Despite a strict three-bottle limit per customer, shelves were stripped. Returning from a trip to the Grand Canyon, a colleague’s sons managed to find a supply in Arizona, and stuffed their suitcase. The scrums have made this week’s Beano, albeit for a drink dubbed “Grime”.
There is kudos even in the empty bottles. One headteacher at a north London primary told me that kids using them to hold water had been “catapulted to higher status among their peers”.
The scarcity tactic helps fuel the buzz — according to Paul, the drinks made $250mn in revenues in 2022 and $40mn in just January this year.
Influencers are not the only ones making money, though. Schoolkids are punting the £2 bottles for inflated prices. One mother told me of a child selling individual capfuls for 20 pence a pop. And that’s before it even reaches eBay. In Yorkshire, a convenience store became a TikTok hit, gaining over 700,000 followers after stocking the brand and claiming to charge exorbitant prices. There is even a Prime Tracker app, created by an independent developer, that can update subscribers on the location of the latest stock. Though as one user reports: “When you get there it is out of stock because loads of people have the app . . . so it is a [race] to get there.”
In part, the success is testimony to the power of playground hype: this point was reinforced to me 18 months ago as I chatted to my then 9-year-old and his friend about a new TV game show where contestants died at the hands of a firing squad. A cold dread descended. I pictured years of therapy. How would I explain to the friend’s parents that the children had somehow got their hands on what appeared to be a multi-part snuff movie?
After a while, I deciphered that they were discussing Netflix’s Korean drama, Squid Game. They hadn’t watched it, just heard about it from other kids who also hadn’t seen it. The show had gone viral in the playground through word of mouth, fuelled by glimpses on social media and online channels.
TikTok, Instagram and YouTube even exert influence over kids who do not have their own accounts. And despite the vaunted age limit of 13, many do. Ofcom, the UK media regulator, found in 2022 that 34 per cent of children aged 8-11 had profiles on TikTok and 27 per cent on YouTube.
Amelia Torode, founder of Fawnbrake, a brand strategy consultancy, queued at 6.45am to buy Prime for her sons. She says: “With TikTok, it’s playground buzz on steroids. All the playgrounds are connected now.” Doubly so, with a brand forged by a Brit and an American.
The relationship younger audiences have with influencers, says Mark Borkowski, a PR executive, differs from that of past generations to celebrity-endorsed products. Today’s youth are complicit. “They follow them, understand the algorithms, they are learning from them. [Because] they think that they can do it. Younger kids are smarter than a marketing executive.”
Every time a poll finds millions of children harbouring dreams to make a living as a TikToker or YouTuber, it unleashes eye-rolling anxiety about the limit of their ambitions. But we ignore the gains from watching influencers at work. Yes, Prime is florid hype. But maybe it’s instructive too.