As Messi announced his plans to retire from soccer this week, the motivation behind his push into soft drinks became slightly clearer.

The 36-year-old has put his name to a drinks range in partnership with White Claw brand owner Mark Anthony Brands, called Mas+.

In true global-superstar style, Messi drip-fed the launch to fans – posting the odd piece of information and photo on social media and releasing a tiny press statement last month.

Four weeks after its first post, the brand’s Instagram page has 138,000 followers – and counting – and pundits are positive about the brand’s potential – especially in the shorter term.

A smart category play

Mas+ is described as “positive hydration” but is, for all intents and purposes, a functional sports beverage that contains electrolytes, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

It is perhaps unsurprising Messi launched a soft drink rather than an alcoholic beverage – but why not enter the booming energy-drinks market?

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George Shaw, beverage analyst at GlobalData, says the move was a smart one that could widen Mas+’s pool of drinkers.

“The decision to launch a functional sports drink rather than entering the fast-growing energy drinks space is likely to avoid limiting potential customer base to older teenage groups,” he says.

If we look at the brand’s following on social media, this idea seems to resonate; Mas+’s Instagram and Facebook followers far outrun its TikTok reach.

Shaw adds: “While younger Gen-Z consumers are the most receptive to celebrity endorsed products, their parents often act as gatekeepers and are reluctant to purchase traditional energy drinks for their children due to concerns over caffeine or sugar content.”

With his ‘sports-icon’ image to uphold, Shaw says Messi’s decision to avoid the energy category could have been swayed by recent criticism leveled upon brands like Prime, which has faced furore over the caffeine levels of its energy-drinks range in the US. Denmark’s food watchdog last year also raised health concerns over Prime Energy, banning companies from marketing the product.

Celebrity messaging

Do we need another celebrity-backed brand? Is Messi any different to others?

Shaw says the soft-drinks market has seen “substantially fewer” celebrity-endorsed launches compared to the alcoholic beverages space, with Prime’s success “suggesting there is further space for more”.

Around 40% of people say an endorsement from a “celebrity or organisation” is an “essential” or “nice to have” feature when deciding to make a purchase, according to GlobalData’s Q1 2024 consumer survey. This is down from 42% in Q1 2022.

“Despite a rush of celebrity-endorsed soft and particularly alcoholic drinks entering the market in recent years, surveys carried out by GlobalData over the past two years suggest that consumer’s appetite for these products has barely wavered,” Shaw says.

Speaking to Just Drinks following Prime’s “forever chemicals” court case earlier this year, drinks consultant Joe Fattorini said a lack of “aspirations and values” associated with founders Logan Paul and KSI could hinder Prime’s long-term sustainability.

Messi, by comparison, has obvious universal values associated with his celebrity persona.

There’s an alchemy in brands. People will need to feel this is more than Messi jumping on a bandwagon.

While Fattorini says the brand is a “no brainer” on paper, he highlights successful brands need more than to just make sense from a business perspective. “Look at Red Bull,” he says. “It’s more expensive than the market leader, comes in a smaller can, and tastes disgusting. Logically it makes no sense. Yet it is Coke and Pepsi’s only challenger.

“There’s an alchemy in brands. I think we can all applaud Messi and Mark Anthony Brands for having a go. It could be huge. My gut says that there’s a better than 50% chance it will. But people will need to feel this is more than Messi jumping on a bandwagon. It will need to mean something more than just his signature.”

Tom Khan-Lavin, CEO of drinks marketing agency YesMore, says Mas+ looks “incredibly well thought out and planned”.

“Their flavours are inspired by key locations of Messi’s life, which will be aspirational to his fans,” he says. “Their site is strategically smart too, with a competition to win a trip to Miami to meet the man himself, as well as limited edition commemorative launch packs including a letter from Messi. Everything is engineered to appeal to a fanatical audience, and I believe they’ve executed it all exceptionally well.”

He adds: “Lionel Messi is an elite sportsman at the top of his game, with three young sons and hundreds of millions of fans to influence. So I really love that this is not another sugar-, caffeine- and guarana-filled energy drink.

“It reminds me of the time Cristiano Ronaldo removed the bottles of Coca-Cola from his podium at a press conference and told the world to drink water instead. It’s a clear and intentional use of their power as globally influential superstars to inspire positive change.”

Mas+ market potential

Mark Anthony Brands is launching the brand in the US first and said export will follow.

Shaw says Canada and Europe “would be obvious future target markets” due to strong consumption. “Although there may be a temptation to launch quickly in Messi’s home nation of Argentina and the rest of Latin America, the per capita consumption of sports drinks in this region is lower than that of the US and Europe,” he adds.

The brand’s name could arguably be off-putting for customers outside of Spanish-speaking countries, especially if they haven’t realised its celebrity association – it’s not immediately clear how to say Mas+, or what it means.

Más means more in Spanish, while Messi explains on the brand’s website: “The + stands for even more positivity. Because in every part of my life, I always think and act positively.”

“You could argue this may be hard for an English audience to understand, but my suspicion is it doesn’t matter when Argentina and every other Spanish-speaking football-obsessed nation will instantly ‘get’ it without confusion,” says Khan-Lavin.

“Additionally the marketers behind Más+ have been careful to continually call it ‘Más+ by Messi’ which tells any English speaker exactly what it is.”

Funny looks

Fans have been quick to point out the similarity between Mas+ and Prime – with co-founder KSI even commenting on the likeness on social media.

Any legal challenge from Prime will be entirely fruitless.

Khan-Lavin says the two brands look “similar”, which he feels was intentional, but he says any legal challenge from Prime will be “entirely fruitless”.

“There’s enough subtle differences to differentiate them and each entity will have enough funding to continue fighting to a stalemate,” he says. He adds the brands’ audiences are “savvy enough to know the differing back stories of Logan Paul vs Lionel Messi”.

Fattorini agrees. “It looks a bit like Prime, but not enough to be a problem, and enough to feel a bit like Prime,” he says.

Whether fans swoon for the superstar-associated beverage or show it the red card is yet to be seen, but the odds look good – at least in the medium term.

Shaw says Mas+’s short-term success is “almost guaranteed” but its longer-term sustainability will ride on “authenticity” on Messi’s behalf.

“Ultimately it’s the audience that will decide whether this brand will fly, or not,” says Khan-Lavin, “but given Messi has 503 million followers on Instagram alone, and the brand has amassed 138,000 followers since publishing its first post a month ago, I suspect this is going to be hugely successful.”