Just after the winter holidays last year, Hayley Phillips and her partner stuffed 22 bottles of Prime sports drinks into their suitcases for the return trip to Scotland from her hometown in Ohio.
The 37-year-old American, who has lived abroad for more than a decade, knew she would be hero to her partner’s nieces and nephews, who had been searching high and low for the colorful bottles.
“It was basically the Tickle Me Elmo of this year’s Christmas gifts,” Phillips said. “Parents were desperate to get it.”
The drinks, which come in flavors like Ice Pop and Meta Moon, are becoming a status symbol, spurring long lines at grocery stores throughout the U.K. as people seek out limited stock. They have also prompted bans at several school districts, in part to reduce the distraction.
Prime is somewhat like Gatorade or Powerade with a splash of coconut water, with both caffeinated and un-caffeinated versions. (The caffeinated energy drink is for customers who are at least 18, the company says.) But the desperate frenzy to snag a bottle is less about the actual drink than the cultlike community that has popped up around it, marketing experts say.
Prime was launched by two prominent influencers and boxers, Logan Paul and KSI. The sometimes-controversial pair, whose fame spread through YouTube, collectively have tens of millions of followers online and already had publicly established an enemies-to-friends relationship after facing off in the ring.
Prime has become a way for their devoted followers to show loyalty, and its immense popularity illustrates how influential and widespread marketing from online personalities has become. Experts believe this trend will only continue to grow.
“In the next 10 years, all the biggest brands will be made by creators,” said Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing firm Obviously. “They understand the medium. They understand what their customers want.”
Phillips, of Ohio, has even heard tales of teenagers charging schoolmates to take a picture with an empty bottle to post on social media. After she and her partner handed over the presents, the kids took them to a park to share capfuls of different flavors with their friends.
“It actually has zero to do with the product,” said Amanda Russell, a professor and director of the Global Center for Influence at University of Texas. “It’s about the community and the cult that they’ve built.”
Companies have partnered with online influencers for years to promote their products on social media, and content creators have been launching their own businesses for more than a decade. Many prominent examples are beauty and lifestyle brands, and some, including Glossier or Something Navy, have attracted widespread attention.
But the fervor behind Prime drinks may have reached another level. Never heard of a “Prime” drink? Well, don’t admit that to a teenager.
Prime drinks cost about $2.40 per bottle — or, at least, they’re supposed to. In some areas, demand is so wild that people are reselling bottles for $12 or $20 — or $100.
Shivani Khosla, a 23-year-old content creator living in London, has spent the past several months making occasional TikTok videos of her visiting different stores around the city and searching for Prime. In one corner store, she found a can of caffeinated Prime for 12 British pounds — far above the listed selling price.
“The stores will stock up 6 a.m., and kids will come before school,” said the streamer, who posts online as khoslaa. “And it’s really hard to find.”
These markups don’t go over well with KSI, who reacted with anger to a video of one reseller charging 1,200 British pounds for a pack of the drink.
Representatives for KSI did not respond to The Post, and representatives for Paul declined to comment.
Retailers, meanwhile, are trying to manage the hordes. The supermarket chain Aldi has made Prime drinks a “Specialbuys” deal in the U.K., warning that once they were gone, they were gone. Another chain, Sainsbury’s, has a recorded message on its main business line directing people to first check online for Prime stock information. Videos on TikTok and Twitter show people lining up for stacked pallets of the drink.
Fans have even less luck on Prime’s website, where all products are sold out.
The brand made $250 million in retail sales last year, according to a Prime spokesman, and the company said it is boosting production. Even though Logan Paul and KSI are the faces behind the brand, the drink is actually manufactured and distributed by a small company based in Louisville, Kentucky, called Congo Brands. The firm says on its website that it prioritizes working with influencers.
The brand also got visibility during the Super Bowl, when it ran a commercial before kickoff, and it recently was named the official sports drink of the UFC, the mixed martial-arts organization.
But what is escalating the drink’s popularity is the idea of scarcity, Russell said: As soon as you say there’s only a limited amount of something, people will rush for it.
Some, but not all, U.S. customers appear to be having an easier time finding Prime. In San Diego, 23-year-old Halima Ibrahim has been searching for the drink to try before workouts after seeing KSI promote it online. She does not make a habit of buying products promoted by influencers, she said, but she has heard a lot about it because her younger brother is a KSI fan. She explained she wants to see whether it will boost her energy before exercising.
Her little sister told her that kids at school are buying and reselling it. “But I’ve never been able to get it,” she said.
Meanwhile, several schools in the U.K. have banned the drinks on campus, according to local news reports. One high school in Herefordshire said students were selling the drink for double the price, according to the Hereford Times.
Grade schoolers and teens have long had the power to turn products into status symbols, from Beanie Babies to Pokémon cards and beyond. Prime drinks have the added layer of showing fidelity to the online influencers who launched the brand, said David Craig, a professor of communication at the University of Southern California who studies social media creators.
“That’s why it’s not about the drink,” Craig said. “It’s about the proof of the value of the relationship that they have to Logan and KSI.”