The world is getting smaller as global brands get bigger, thanks in part to the internet, globalization, and worldwide trends. Where do the humble Canadian brands fit? Surprisingly, a few recognizable Canadian brands have burst out from the Northern Frontier. Canadian brands have been strongly linked to our natural resources and long, cold winters—which makes sense given we’re the second largest nation, encompassing 9.9 million square kilometers that reach three coastlines. While our southern neighbour brands dominate the world, most Canadian brands are happy to stay above the 49th parallel, building iconic brands that only live within the Canadian psyche. But there have been some brands that have ventured beyond.
True North Strong Brands
In true Canadian modesty, there are several brands that have made it big outside of Canada. You may be amazed to find an eccentric range of global brands that call Canada home!
Remarkably, most international Canadian brands go unnoticed in Canada, when measured against the mega American global brands. InLeger’s 2018 annual ranking of Canada’s Top 20 Most Admired Companies, only five are Canadian brands (Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Canada Post and Sobeys) and only reside in Canada.Level 5 Strategy Group’sblog post How Canadian Brands can Compete on the Global Stage concludes that Canadian brands understand the importance of articulating the rational side of the brand experience, but falter on the emotional side of brand building. WestJet, however, is a great example of a brand that has built an emotional brand promise on “We Care”. Yet WestJet’s reach is still limited to its Canadian audience.
Rupert Duchesne, past Group Chief Executive of Aimia (parent company to Aeroplan Loyalty Company), doesn’t think Canadian brands have a strong desire for international trade. “You see a [Canadian] product and you think to yourself, if you put it in a certain country it’d be a winner,” he explains. “But we have a national view that international trade should be south of the border.”
O’ Canada Brands
Here is a list of brands that you might not have realized were Canadian. These brands have built their image on the Great White North, tapping into the clean air, fresh mountain water, vast wilderness, and pristine winter wonderland.
Canadian Spirit Brands
Great multicultural spirit is what Canada stands for. Core to the Canadian culture is the freedom to express ideas and live in peace. Canadian are perceived as friendly, tolerant, and clever. We also need a sense of humour to endure 6 to 8 months of winter! Outside of beer, poutine, beaver tails, maple syrup and ketchup chips, Canadians like to be active, enjoy life, and express themselves.
Canadian Hospitality Brands
Canada attracts tourists from around the world because of its many natural wonders like the Rockies, Niagara Falls, Coastal Islands, and much more. Canadians are also known as the nicest people in the world, with unfailing courtesy and politeness. In the book How To Be A Canadian, Ian and Will Ferguson theorize that there are 12 Canadian “sorries”: simple, essential, occupational, subservient, aristocratic, demonstrative, libidinous, ostentatious, mythical, unrepentant, sympathetic and authentic. They say once you master saying “I’m sorry,” you will be a true Canadian.
Canadian Trusted Brands
Canada is known for being a relatively safe and ethical country with an effective government system and a Prime Minister who knows how to say “sorry.” According to Reputation Institute’s 2017 Country RepTrak survey of 55 countries, Canada was the world’s most reputable county—an honour we’ve enjoyed four times over the last six years.
There are always those outliers—brands that don’t fit the Canadian psyche but that have captured consumers around the world.
The World Needs More Canadian Brands
I am [not] sorry to say most Canadian brands are happy to focus on the 36 million Canadians that reside within our borders. Brands like Canada Post, Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay Company, Tim Hortons, and MEC have been content staying within Canada for the last few decades. But the ones that have endeavoured beyond the great north have built formidable brand empires with little fanfare.
There seems to be a common thread weaved through these brands. They don’t wear their emotions on their sleeve, they are more concerned about their customers than projecting their self-interests, and their CEO isn’t a name or face that you know. These are well-established brands that have grown over time, meeting and surpassing customers’ needs. These brands have adapted to changes and have been around for decades, with a clear focus on the customer.
Jeannette Hanna, a marketing expert and founder of Trajectory Brands, says successful international brands from Canada are chameleon-like, successfully adapting to many markets around the world. “They can fly under the radar in an interesting way so that they look international, and they look stylish, and can appeal to a broad base without having to scream that they’re Canadian.”
CEO Bruce Flattof Brookfield Asset Management would agree. He believes “keeping a low profile is good for business. It’s best to be under the radar.” All the better to stalk our competition.
Quietly and politely, Canadian brands bring more Canada to the world. Buy Canadian, eh!
My analysis isn’t terrible scientific as most of the lists are wildly subjective. Looking across the lists there are only a few campaigns that get repeated nominations among the experts. There was five campaigns that stood out above the rest.
Purpose over Profits
A common theme among many of these campaigns was a focus on a higher purpose and less about selling their brand. Many are recognizable brands that have successfully tapped into the global anxiety of uncertainty and unrest. A world without a clear future. There is a serious tone in all of these campaigns void of any humour except for Halo Top`s (The Perfect Pint) campaign.
Desire to Engage
These campaigned aren`t about a 30 second television commercial but a fully integrated campaign with social engagements in the millions that reached beyond most expectations. The secret ingredient in all of these campaigns was the social buzz or fire that they all created both positive and negative. A true sign of a campaign that matters.
Enjoy and have a very happy and prosperous New Year.
The Top 5 Best 2017 Brand Campaigns
1. Heineken – Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld
This campaign resonated with a number of the experts. And I don`t disagree. I found this real-life social experiment riveting. Heineken brought together people from opposite ends of the spectrum and put them into various team-building activities, before unveiling their strong conflicting viewpoints. They then had the choice to share a Heineken and discuss their differences or leave the room. I won`t spoil the ending.
Heineken received plenty of free publicity including some negative backlash but they also saw sales volume increase 3.9% in the first half of 2017. The 4:25 minute video on Youtube has received over 14.6 million views so far.
2. The New York Times – The Truth is Hard to Find
Today, the newspaper business isn’t a happy place. If it’s not Donald Trump threatening journalism, it’s overall declining revenues. The New York Times launched a campaign to declare why journalism matters and its role in holding power accountable and ultimately delivering the truth (most of the time).
The YouTube commercial has over 15.7 million views since it first aired on the Academy Awards in February. But more importantly The New York Times has seen a record level of digital subscribers of over 300 thousand in the first quarter of 2017.
3. State Street Global Advisors – Fearless Girl
On March 7th a small girl of just 4 feet appeared before the iconic Charging Bull in the heart of New York`s financial district which stands at 11 feet. The day before International Women’s Day. Courageously she stands in deviance against the beast that represents male capitalism.
Sculpted by Kristen Visbal, the girl statue was commissioned by agency McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) to symbolise the power of women in leadership. Planting this meek girl statue of 250 pounds against the beast of 7,100 pounds created an instant global media storm. Like any visceral campaign it comes with its detractors including a $5 million lawsuit settlement against parent company State Corp. for alleging it underpaid women and minorities. (Best to have your own house in order before you start pointing fingers as others!)
Fearless Girl won 18 Cannes Lions awards, including the Titanium Grand Prix in the Glass Lions, which honours marketing creativity that transcends traditional categories such as media, film or radio. It was also praised by the jury for advocating gender equality.
4. Halo Top – “The Perfect Pint” or “Eat The Ice Cream” (experts couldn’t agree on one)
AdAge describes Halo Top ice cream brand as a “consumer-driven brand based on a quality product, evangelical consumers and clever, grassroots marketing…” This young five year old company has built its brand on a focused social media strategy surpassing the ice cream giants of Ben & Jerry`s and Häagen-Daazs. They are a true threat to the established brands with sales increases of over 2,500 percent in 2016 and 1,656 percent in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5, to nearly $298.6 million, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. “The perfect Pint” was the first traditional campaign they launched just prior to Fourth of July holiday. This video has garnered over 14.4 million views since release.
More recently they launched a longer-format spot for theatre and online advertising. Tim Nudd, creative editor at Adweek describes the spot as a “grimly amusing, Kubrick-esque robot apocalypse” perfect as a horror-movie trailer. Halo Top Founder and CEO Justin Woolverton said his brand had “never done anything this off-the-wall before.”
The sales would indicate a double hitter but the jury is this out on understanding where the brand image is really going.
5. Nike – #Breaking2
Nike is a brand that urges its customers to push their limits, and this campaign does this in spades.
They sponsored and challenged three athletes: Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge and Zersenay Tadese to run the first sub two-hour marathon wearing Nike`s new Zoom Vaporfly Elite racing shoe. The event took place at the Formula 1 racetrack in Monza, Italy on May 6th and was live-streamed on social media.
Nike also partnered with National Geographic to produce the Breaking2, a 55 minute documentary that has 1.5 million views. Unfortunately, Kenya’s Olympic champion marathoner Eliud Kipchoge missed the goal by just :25 seconds. Despite not beating the two-hour mark, #Breaking2 was a PR success, receiving worldwide media coverage generating almost 85,000 mentions on social media in two days.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou’s life lesson is something we have the pleasure of taking solace in, and it’s what inspired looking at emotional branding. She understood the power of emotion with an audience. Ace Metrix research company has validated that stronger emotional connections to a brand also translated into more definite purchase intent. Emotional branding means profits.
There are eight primary emotions for emotional branding.
The subject of determining how many emotions there are was started in the 4th century B.C. by the philosopher Aristotle. Then later by Charles Darwin. Most recently, psychologists have concluded that there are anywhere from four to eight basic emotions.
In 1978 Dr. Paul Ekman, with the help of W. Friesen, developed the first and only comprehensive tool for objectively measuring facial movement – the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). Since then, there have been over 70 other studies confirming the same set of results of seven universal facial expressions of emotions – anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise.
Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed the famous wheel of emotions, which identifies eight basic emotions – joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. His theory starts with these basic emotions then blossoms out to multiply variations creating a broad spectrum of emotions with opposing relationships.
Kendra Cherry, the author of Everything Psychology Book, said, “The basic emotions, however many there are, serve as the foundation for all the more complex and subtle emotions that make up the human experience.” There is some compelling evidence that shows consumers use emotions rather than information to evaluate brands. Emotions also create more profound and more visceral impressions that have an impact on long-term memory.
Emotions are complex, but to build an emotional brand, we used Plutchik’s eight basic emotions.
Negative Brand Emotions
Most companies try to stay clear of associating their brand with negative emotions. But some brands have been very successful in differentiating their emotional branding with the contentious feelings of disgust, sadness, anger and fear.
Disturbing graphic images on cigarette packs is an excellent example of using disgust to build the brand of anti-smoking. Gone are the days of the iconic Marlboro man, the ultimate American masculine cowboy brand, which drove Marlboro to the number one tobacco brand in the world. I have read that several actors who portrayed the Marlboro man over the years have ridden off into the sunset prematurely due to smoking-related diseases–talk about disgusting. Dr. Ellen Peters, who conducted a research study on the effectiveness of smoking warning labels and graphic images with 244 smokers, says, “The images did stir their emotions, but those emotions led them to think more carefully about the risks of smoking and how those risks affected them.”
Another brand that serves up a spoon of disgust is the famous Canadian cough medicine Buckley’s with the slogan “It tastes awful. And it works.”
But the most disgusting advertising for a brand has to go to OXY Face Wash with their series of zit popping videos. Say no more, the images speak for themselves!
Is sadness the new happiness? Does it leave a mark deeper than joy? Making people cry seems to be many brand’s objectives these days. Take a look at all the holiday epic stories of lonely and sad people. The U.K. retailer brand John Lewis knows something about pulling consumers’ heartstrings. But some would say that we can’t be happy all of the time, so there is an authenticity in trying to get to deeper brand engagement. Several insurance companies have cornered the market for ‘sad-vertising’ such as Thai Life Insurance (Unsung Hero), MetLife (My dad’s story) and Nationwide (Dead Boy).
Making people mad to buy a brand seems counterproductive, but used correctly can create decisive action or a strong statement. If you want to change a perception or get people to take action, anger can be a potent tool. When we see a person or helpless animal hurt or a significant injustice enacted, we get angry.
Sadly, terrorist groups like ISIS have used this emotion effectively to build their brand. “They’re very good at branding,” said J.M. Berger, co-author of the book ISIS: The State of Terror. They have a complete visual look with a black flag, distinctive clothing, black masks and identical weapons. They use brutal violence against innocent people and public executions to generate widespread anger, which also appeals to a small niche of supporters who want to take up their cause.
After the Great Recession, many brands tried to take advantage of frustrated and angry consumers affected by hard times by emulating further antagonism. Eastman Kodak did a rant about overpriced inkjet printer ink (I purchased a Kodak printer based on this fact). Post’s Shredded Wheat Cereal declared, “Innovation is not your friend,” Miller High Life showed their support towards blue-collar customers, and Harley-Davidson condemned “The stink of greed and billion-dollar bankruptcies” to align with their customers.
A unique brand campaign I have seen that successfully angered its target audience was a simple billboard advertising that said: TEXT AND DRIVE with the company logo Wathan Funeral Home. The outraged and upset viewers went to the funeral home’s website to voice their anger. They were surprised to find that it was a PSA to get people to stop texting and driving. Mad with a happy ending.
Every brand has a call to action and, in many cases, depicts a sense of urgency to respond. But brands would tend to prefer a positive experience and keep as far away from risk as possible. But some brands thrive with their use of fear, like Greenpeace. They have been effective in shutting down major projects and changing their prey’s business practices by way of fear-mongering. They take mere possibilities and translate them into fearful statements, such as “Our health is threatened by climate change. Malaria, asthma, encephalitis, tuberculosis, leprosy, dengue fever and measles are all expected to become more common.”
President Donald Trump’s success is attributed to always creating fear. Alex Altmen, a Washington correspondent for TIME magazine, said, “No President has weaponized fear quite like Trump. He is an expert at playing to the public’s phobias.” Barry Glassner, a sociologist at Lewis & Clark College and the author of The Culture of Fear, says Trump “is a master” at creating fear. “His formula is very clean and uncomplicated: Be very, very afraid,” says Glassner. I repeat be very afraid.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research demonstrated that consumers who experienced fear while watching a film felt a higher affiliation with an existing brand than those who watched movies evoking other emotions, like happiness, sadness or excitement. I believe this goes back to our basic instincts of survival.
Negative feelings can successfully build an emotional brand but with caution. Graeme Newell, marketing consultant, speaker, and founder of 602 Communications, says negative emotions can be a powerful tool to elevate a brand’s message, as long as they’re not delivered too bluntly, and you must leave the audience with a positive takeaway. Greenpeace’s continuous use of fear has lost some value over time and has created its challenges. How long can you cry “wolf” to get people to mobilize your brand?
Positive Brand Emotions
As character Don Draper said in a Mad Men episode, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” Many brands focus on using the emotions of joy, trust, surprise and anticipation.
Without trust, the financial industry doesn’t work. In essence, a five-dollar bill or hundred dollars is the same simple piece of paper with different numbers on them, but the buying power is significantly different thanks to trust. No surprise that the business and financial services industry needs trust to operate. Trust is integral to the success of all brands but foundational for those brands built on faith and intangible, complex components.
Generally, the emotion of trust becomes super essential for a brand if it has broken this bond with the customer. I am sure V.W., Toyota, and B.P. are working on this emotion extensively today.
In the U.K.’s 2015 Consumer Trust in Brands report, they state that food brands have one of the highest trust levels—it’s important to have repeat customers who aren’t sick or dying from eating your product. In 2008 Maple Leaf Foods Inc. sold listeria tainted luncheon meats that killed 22 people and sickened 35 others. Sales dropped by 50 percent but were only down 15 percent two months later.
“The very first thing that must happen in these incidents is acknowledgment, apologies, and action from the CEO,” says Hamish McLennan, CEO of Young & Rubicam. Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain felt the company’s transparency and immediate reaction in taking responsibility for the crisis helped win back customers. Morgen Witzel’s article, Maple Leaf Food’s response to a crisis, states, “The trust built in the days after the onset of the crisis laid the foundation for its eventual turnaround.” Today, I don’t think there is any trust issue facing Maple Leaf Foods, thanks to Mr. McCain’s conviction for making things right and not listening to his lawyers.
Humanizing your brand helps build trust, but you must foster an authentic and lasting connection with your customers to get there.
What brand do you immediately think of when you hear the word “joy”? Think of joy as a sudden burst of happiness on a high. Does “Joy in every bottle” ring a bell?
Most people are always on a quest to experience more joy in their lives and looking for those small indulgences of pleasure. Many brands have found the sweet spot, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Campbell’s Soup, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Zappos, Facebook – “likes,” and Ferrero Rocher chocolates to name a few.
Consumers appreciate a pleasant surprise and can be leveraged across all consumer touchpoints (social, events, in-store, advertising, mobile, etc.).
In a social listening study conducted by DraftFCB (now known as FCB or Foote, Cone & Belding), using W. Gerrod Parrott of Georgetown University’s emotional framework (Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy, Fear, and Surprise), they found “surprise” as a distant sixth place in association with brands. So there is room for brand differentiation in using this emotion.
MasterCard has been running its “Priceless” campaign for over 17 years. In 2014, they introduced “Priceless Surprises” with the goal of surprising cardholders when they least expect it—for example, meeting Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani or VIP tickets to special events. There is a strong emotional element in watching a fan connect with a star, and MasterCard #PricelessSurprises made it happen. Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard, said, “The success of Priceless is the campaign’s ability to create emotion, influence behaviour, unite people and touch upon consumer passions.” Their website says that over 97,867 cardholders have experienced a surprise so far. I’m still waiting for a surprise that doesn’t include 18 percent when I check my credit card bill!
GoPro on a smaller scale had a campaign called “Everything We Make Giveaway,” where every day, one person wins everything they make. In the last five years, they have given away 1,500 cameras and $4 million of GoPro gear. Don’t get too excited; this campaign is no longer on.
For the last five years, WestJet Airlines has implemented their “Christmas Miracle” by surprising a select group of customers or potential customers. In 2016, they surprised the residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who were impacted by the devastating wildfires with an exclusive “Snowflake Soiree.” Everyone who attended got a free WestJet ticket.
I am sure you have been anxiously anticipating this last emotion. Researchers have found that people experience more intense emotions around planning future events/opportunities than remembering those in the past. Booking a holiday is an excellent example of a positive and powerful emotional branding as a person waits for an exciting trip. High-end cruise liners have perfected the art of creating excitement with cruise planners and exclusive updates before embarking.
Sandals Resorts understand the importance of anticipation with their beautifully stunning, natural blue and turquoise oceans and clear sky images, but more importantly, keeping the excitement growing with their social media activities. Tiffany Mullins, Social Media Manager, says the Sandals Resorts “strategy is to evoke an emotion with every single social media post.” Not only are they humanizing the brand, but their social media presence is creating a virtual vacation experience in advance of the actual vacation. Brilliant.
The Apple brand is an expert on contemplating the future and having their customers engaged in anticipating the next generation of technology. Each version is a stepping stone to deepen brand loyalty or cult-like following further. Apple is notorious for its pre-launch hype, limited availability, reorders and long lineups on launch day, only to be repeated within another 12 – 18 months. Here we go again.
Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind, a place where emotions are king. If you are going to engage in emotional branding, understand how and where you want to connect to your customers so you can consistently build on every touchpoint.
As William Gelner, Chief Creative Officer of 180, explains, “We live such digitally switched-on, always-plugged-in lives, and yet we still also somehow feel disconnected from people. As human beings, we’re looking for true human connection, and I think that emotional storytelling can help bridge that gap.”
Pick your emotion(s) and start building your emotional branding story today, every step of the way.
This holiday season, successful brands continued the tradition of wrapping themselves in a feel-good message, hoping consumers will be pleased with their “presence” (sorry, I couldn’t resist). As they should, considering the US retail industry generated over three trillion dollars during the holidays. This number is from 2013 and I am sure it’s even higher today. This equates to about 20% of total annual sales – and for some brands the number is much higher.
Three Trillion Dollars in Christmas Shopping
That’s a lot of money (even if one-third is on credit cards). But how does a brand ensure it gets its fair share? The holiday season is the perfect time to tap into the human emotions of peace, love, kindness and hope. It’s beautiful, yet frightening. Consumers are vulnerable and have credit! And ironically, during this time of harmony, brands are busy fighting each other for attention and won’t stop until the last dollar drops. That might be the reality of retail, but good brands understand the true meaning—it is better to give than to receive.
The best way to capture the holiday spirit is through a highly emotional TV commercial or online video (a topic of a previous article “Why Great Brands Still Needs a Great Commercial”). In 2015, there were over 100 holiday TV ads airing on US TV, but so far this year, there have only been 47 holiday ads reported by research firm Ace Metrix. Holiday advertising seems to be big in Britain and Germany where brands produce run-away winners.
Ben Mooge, Executive Creative Director at Havas London an advertising agency which created the very successful ‘Heathrow Bears’ ad says brands have a responsibility to contribute to the Christmas spirit and not just overtly sell their products. He says “they need to contribute to Christmas, and not just ride on the jingly back of it.” If a brand is successful “they just help it feel like Christmas.”
It’s all about giving sincerely and inspiring the feeling of the holiday season. For many families, traditions, like watching the Griswolds light up their house (Christmas Vacation), or witnessing Bill Murray get a second chance to get it right (Scrooged), take us to fonder times and helps to recharge the soul. So while we’re all killing ourselves giving, the reality is that we need to receive appreciation. It’s here where brands have a responsibility to help consumers by framing the holiday season and help us have an enjoyable Christmas (for a price). And when they strike a chord, I can hear those cash registers jingling all the way!
The very best brands who have seamlessly carved a place in our minds during the holiday seasons and continue to reap the rewards are such brands as: Coca-Cola, Macy’s, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Walmart, and WestJet, to name a few. But each year a new brand finds its holiday moment to shine and is rewarded by millions of views and likes from around the world.
Damon Collins, founder of Joint advertising agency in London who created the successful Amazon Prime holiday commercial ‘Imam and Priest’ says “There’s no time of year the spirit of human kindness is more relevant than Christmas. And there’s been no year in recent memory that the spirit of human kindness has been more needed than this one.”
Better to Give Than to Receive
The brands that are true to their values and avoid false sentimentality can build brand value during the holiday season. It’s more about sharing values and becoming part of the holiday traditions than trying to steal the show. As Cam Blackley, Executive Creative Director at BMF Advertising who developed the discount supermarket brand Aldi Australia ‘Meet the Tinkletons’ ad explains that what doesn’t work is when “a brand cynically makes an ad riddled with fake Christmas sentiment devoid of an insight that is true to their values.”
Top Three Brands that Hit Home this Holiday
Without further ado, here’s my top three adverts for the 2016 holiday season:
My favourite for 2016 is from Allegro, an auction site based in Poland. This commercial has all the ingredients for a wonderful holiday video including a dog.
John Lewis, a UK-based department store, continues to hit the ball out of the park with their iconic holiday adverts. It too has a dog and other loveable animals.
The top Canadian brand for me was WestJet. They continued to surprise and delight their customers, and focused this year on the people still recovering from the devastating fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A nice slice of Canadian values–giving.
Have a Merry Brand Holiday
If none of these have ignited the spirit of Christmas within your soul then I would suggest that you seriously consider becoming a member of the Ebenezer Scrooge Fan Club. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful holiday, sharing gifts and enjoy time with family and friends. Have a Merry Brand Holiday!
Years ago in my economic classes I learnt that supply and demand determined the price/value of most products especially commodities. If this is true, why is bottled water more expensive than gasoline? This is the result of building a powerful brand.
Transparency Market Research estimated that the global market for bottled water was worth about $157.3 US billion in 2013. In North America more bottled water is sold compared to milk or beer in terms of volume. Canadean research estimated that the global bottled water volumes would reach 233 billion litres in 2015. With all of Canada’s fresh water, they only produce less than one percent of the world’s bottled water (2.29 billion litres). However, United States remains the fastest growing bottled water market outside Asia. Mainly due to more health conscious consumers shifting away from sugary carbonated soft drinks.
In many emerging markets, the scarcity of clean water makes bottled water a necessary staple rather than a value-added refreshment beverage like juice or soda. In North America, the water in your tap is generally the same stuff you buy in the bottle. The big difference is that tap water is constantly tested to ensure they follow the drinking water quality guidelines. Bottle water doesn’t have the same stringent guidelines, expect for not containing any “poisonous or harmful substances”. Let’s hope that the big brands follow some type of quality control.
Clean drinkable water is generally available throughout North America where bottled water companies’ position their brands on quality (healthy choice) and convenience (portable and handy). From this foundation the category gets complex with pricing strategies, water source and lifestyle attributes.
Magician duo Penn & Teller in their show Bullshit did a spoof on bottled water. In a fine dining restaurant in Southern California they proved that the general public can’t tell the difference between tap water and $4 a litre bottled water.
ABC’s Good Morning America conducted a blind tasting experiment in 2001 where they sampled branded bottle water such as Poland Spring, O-2, Evian and the popular New York City tap water. The results shouldn’t surprise you – Big Apple water beat them all.
If bottled water is the same thing as tap water the real difference is branding. Tap water is a commodity with no brand. It comes from any unmarked tap – hot or cold. You take the same thing, build a formidable brand image and you can extract a premium by the litre (or ounce) at a time. Here is the secret on how to create brand value:
Power of Emotional Connection
Byron Sharp, professor of marketing science at the University of South Australia and author of How Brands Grow, says building a brand is based on “physical and mental availability” suggesting most brand purchase decisions are made with the emotional brain. A brand needs to trigger instinctual responses.
Ammar Mian writer at SocialRank says the emotional tipping point for bottle water occurred in the early 1980’s when Perrier launched its ‘Earth’s First Soft Drink’ campaign. This campaign embraced the belief that their sparkling water comes from the purity of nature, straight from mother-earth. This emotional connection resonated with consumers who are more health-conscious and want an alternative to soft drinks. Other premium bottle water brands followed suit with images of purity, youthfulness, healthy and natural. Water can’t get any better than this unless you turn it into alcohol. Here’s more on Emotional Branding.
Power of Convenience
A brand must be easy to buy – when and where you want it – ideally everywhere. Not unlike tap water. Remember the days of drinking fountains? We though they were convenient – if we could find one. But it was like drinking from a water hose – only one quick sip if there was a line-up.
The biggest growth development in the bottle water industry has been the mass distribution systems. Dominated by the same companies that have covered the world with sugar water like: Coca-Cola (who has such popular brands as Dasani and Glacéau smartwater), Nestle (who has all the water champs such as Perrier, Pure Life, S. Pellegrino, Deer Park and Poland Spring) and PepsiCo (who has Aquafina).
Where is Evian in the distribution mix you ask? In 2002, Evian signed a distribution agreement with Coca-Cola Co., Inc. which ended in 2014. Then Evian found new wings with distribution partner Red Bull. And Fiji Water? Dr Pepper Snapple Group website states that they distribute Fiji Water in various territories.
Power of Fame and Attention
Getting people to pay for a free commodity like water is hard work. It takes a great deal of investment to build a distinctive brand. Successful brands need big bank accounts to ensure the advertising messages get noticed and the brands stays top-of-mind.
Ten years later, Evian is still spending around a million in measured media annually according to Kantar Media . Over the years, Evian has lost market share to the more aggressive competitors, sitting in 3rd place behind Fiji Water and Smartwater. Eric O’Toole, president-GM at Danone Waters North America (parent company to Evian), contributes the brand stabilization in recent years, in part, to the launch of the Baby & Me advertising effort. Great creative never hurts if you can’t afford to advertise year-round. See more on Creativity.
The soft drink industry is notorious for using celebrity endorsers to help push their sugary drinks (check out a partial list of famous celebrities and soft drink brands). The top bottle water brands use the same branding tool to build credibility and gain the coolness factor. Evian has used Maria Sharapova, the young and popular tennis champion. While the elite Fiji Water has uses the former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan. Glacéau smartwater has used actress Jennifer Aniston to create a buzz around their relatively new brand.
A Memorable Story
Great brands always come with a great brand story. Many bottle water brands have great stories that would put National Geographic to shame. My favorite is the Fiji story or as some say the Fiji myth. Fiji Water, natural artesian water bottled at the source in Viti Levu (Fiji islands). Its a leading premium bottled water in the United States and fastest-growing worldwide. Here is their story of the world’s finest water. It should be for the price of $3.50 – 4.00 per litre (3 times the price of gasoline). For more on Storytelling.
Water has no distinct taste, no unique colour, and no smell. All water feels wet – physical there is no difference from one glass of water to another, so packaging is king. If nothing else is going to sell you, it must be the memorable packaging. The packaging must fit the great stories and celebrities who would never drink it, if it didn’t look good.
Packaging can help define a brand experience. Do you remember the first iPhone, iPad or iPod you unwrapped from its packaging? The simplistic and beautifully designed box with everything in its own place – clean and white. A perfect brand fit.
Since 2008 Evian has been working with some of the world’s most prestigious designers to create a limited edition bottle each year. Evian has worked with such creative artists such as Diane von Furstenberg, Paul Smith, Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Elie Saab, KENZO and most recently with Alexander Wang (2016 limited edition bottle). Former zone director for the Middle East & Indian Ocean for Evian, Elias Fayad explains the limited edition concept: “Our water is untouched by man and perfected by nature, so we attempt to give the bottle an artistic expression.” In a September 9, 2015 press release from Evian, they explain each collaboration as “a renewed celebration of purity and playfulness and a reinterpretation of evian’s spirit through art and design.” I have to remind myself that we are talking about a simple natural resource that can be found anywhere on the planet – water.
Dreams or Nightmares in a Bottle
Water is living proof that anything can be branded and can be elevated from no value to high value with sufficient investments. It is through these investments and the ability to create a strong brand image that brand value is achieved. In essence, consumers are buying dreams in a bottle. Dreams to be on a pristine tropical island or a youthful energetic baby once again. Stories of spiritual purity, blissful health and a fountain of youth – the water of life. Potentially over $200 US billion worth.
But there is a dark side to this story. While dreams are created and value generated from the replenishing resource, there is a social cost. Today, Wikipedia lists over 144 bottled water brands, and from the statistics, the market continues to grow. The Pacific Institute, which conducts research on water use and conservation, has estimated that bottled water is up to 2,000 times more energy-intensive than tap water. It is estimated that in 2006, U.S. bottle water consumption used the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil and produced over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide – in one year. There’s also the worry that we are shifting water consumption from one region to another, creating an imbalance with consequences to our planet and to our future.
Just because we have the ability to create formidable brands to extract more value, it doesn’t mean we should. As marketing and brand experts, it’s important we use our craft wisely. We must balance the benefits for the consumer, society and environment. We must be careful on how we use the power of the brand.