Decades after 7Up was sold as “wet and wild,” a brand of bottled water is being pitched in much the same suggestive way, bringing soft-drink marketing tactics to an increasingly competitive fray.
The bottled water, Dasani, is the subject of a significantly revamped campaign from Berlin Cameron/Red Cell in New York that begins Monday. Drenched with sexual imagery, the television commercials, print advertisements and posters, with a budget estimated at $20 million, are uncharacteristic for the Dasani parent, the Coca-Cola Co. Coca-Cola generally favors a wholesome approach to peddle its beverage brands.
The makeover for the ads for Dasani, No. 2 in the bottled-water category, behind Aquafina, comes as executives at the Aquafina parent, the Pepsi-Cola Co. division of PepsiCo, mull a major change in its campaigns. They have placed in review the Aquafina creative account, handled since early last year by Element 79 Partners in Chicago.
The cheeky sexiness of the new Dasani campaign is PG-rated compared with the scarlet “R” that might be borne by current ads for other beverages like Coors Light and Miller Lite beers in which scantily clad women gambol or tussle. For instance, in one Dasani commercial, a man and woman frolic in an elevator as a security camera captures the action, but they turn out to be husband and wife. In another spot, a woman spends a night out on the town with an extremely attractive man, then heads home where she gets undressed and jumps into bed -- with her teddy bear.
Still, the Dasani campaign is much more sensuous than its predecessor, which carried the theme “Treat yourself well. Everyday.
The goal is to borrow the trappings of the emotionally evocative lifestyle advertising used typically in soft-drink campaigns, rather than the more rational tack traditionally taken to sell bottled water, which focuses on product benefits like purity and refreshment.
The initial three Dasani commercials created by Berlin Cameron/Red Cell -- the division of the Red Cell unit of the WPP Group that is also responsible for the new “Real” campaign for Coca-Cola Classic -- are replete with quick editing cuts, fast-paced music and fast-moving plots. Then, too, there is all the sexiness, as embodied by multiple scenes of attractive young people dancing, running and embracing, interspersed with shots of water splashing into open mouths.
“People may not immediately say, ‘That’s water advertising,’ because there are no spas, babbling brooks or yoga,” said Kellam Mattie, senior brand manager for Dasani at the Coca-Cola North American division in Atlanta. “But they’ll come to say, ‘This is what water advertising can be.”’
Coca-Cola is borrowing another tactic of soft-drink marketing by segmenting its water products by price. It has already signed a deal with Groupe Danone to distribute Dannon bottled water, a lower-price brand, and Evian, a higher-price brand. Now, Coca-Cola is trying to position Dasani as a midprice product; it is not as expensive as imported waters but costs more than so-called value brands.
“Coca-Cola’s three-tier water strategy will only work if Dasani’s brand equity is strong enough that people perceive that Dasani’s higher price is worth paying,” William Pecoriello, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York, said in a report last week. “If the company fails to drive that brand equity, the multitier water strategy is at risk.”
The Coca-Cola products, in addition to battling PepsiCo, are jousting with brands sold by companies including CG Roxane, which markets Crystal Geyser, and the Nestlé Waters North America division of Nestlé, with a lengthy list of labels like Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarks and Zephyrhills.
Sales of Dasani in supermarkets, drugstores and mass-merchandise chains excluding Wal-Mart rose 10.7 percent for the 52 weeks that ended May 18, according to Information Resources in Chicago, compared with the same period a year earlier. The growth exceeded the 8.3-percent increase for the bottled-water category, but lagged behind the 12.1-percent gain for Aquafina.
In dollar terms, the category, which does not include sparkling waters like Perrier, had total sales of nearly $2 billion in the period.
Consumers spent $262.8 million, or 13.4 percent, on Dasani, compared with $346.8 million, or 17.6 percent, spent on Aquafina.
Coca-Cola executives acknowledge the risks they are taking with the pricing strategy and departure from Coca-Cola norms, but said they believe they are necessary to achieve the desired growth. “If we’re not going to be more vital in the advertising, we can’t deliver on the promise the brand is making,” said Esther Lee, senior vice president and chief creative officer for Coca-Cola and its North American operations. “We’re not trying to shock people, but we had to go a little bit further and not be staid.
“So much water advertising is about the nothingness of water,” she added. “The future in this category is the somethingness of water.”
The comment about water’s nothingness was a gibe at a recent campaign for Aquafina, created by Element 79, part of the Omnicom Group, that carried the theme “So pure, we promise nothing.” In the current campaign, also by Element 79, that has been replaced by the theme “Purity guaranteed.”
The review for the Aquafina account, now getting under way, is intended to help Pepsi-Cola “come up with the best ideas to reinforce our position as the category-leading bottled water,” said Bart Casabona, a spokesman for the Pepsi-Cola North American division in Purchase, New York.
Casabona confirmed a report in Adweek that the review would pit Element 79 against two other Omnicom agencies that also work for PepsiCo, the New York offices of BBDO Worldwide and DDB Worldwide. “We’ve had a good relationship with Element 79,” he said. “It’s just a matter of leveraging Omnicom’s capabilities.”
Pepsi-Cola introduced a promotion for Aquafina last week centered on two branded blimps traveling cross-country and a sweepstakes. A commercial by Element 79 focused on the promotion will begin running Tuesday, to be followed in two weeks by a spot featuring the actresses Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham of the WB series Gilmore Girls. That spot is being produced by WB, owned by AOL Time Warner and the Tribune Co.
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