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Pink Colour Branding

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a striking and controversial colour, full of meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more interpretations than any other colour. This article is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the pink colour branding has a lot of opportunities left in it in the world of branding.

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which means we don’t see actual wavelengths. Pink light is “an extra–spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink are red and white, but it is yellow and blue tones that form a broad spectrum of pink hues. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (blue has over 73). In the ranking of fashionable colours, pink is number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell, in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pink represents masculinity honouring slain Samurais, whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront, starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960s, pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there, we saw the pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as a cheerful colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to hot vibrant pink, and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray vast and can quickly define gender or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink, transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and hip. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successfully motivate his employees to wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day proudly.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and -$6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend, says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She told the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that the Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (U.S.) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. They were making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink colour branding power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion U.S. (2015) in worldwide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

Gender-Coded Pink

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men, nor does it have any effect on human behaviour. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II, every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.” Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

The Politics of Pink

The colour pink connotes passive, innocent and girly; however, as an advocacy pink colour branding, it’s fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement. Still, its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazis to identify homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official, now-ubiquitous, symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour communicates active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

Pink Ribbon

The Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their profits. BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 42,170 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2020 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign, but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the pink colour branding. They just want a colour that will differentiate them from the competition.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies that introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since launching the Pink Panther, customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in an Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first companies to trademark their colour against copycats successfully. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing, says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink, which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than making it white. Today, the opposite is correct, but as readers’ transition to the online version, the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurant interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to soothe their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

Pinked Out

No question, pink is an intense colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to develop with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will make pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said, “women are complex creatures.” I think pink colour branding is just as complex.

However, many brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd by pink colour branding, and more new brands will do the same.

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter

This updated article was originally published on January 14th, 2018.

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Fear Is The Greatest Persuader That Doesn’t Terrify Brands

Using fear to build a brand

Find out how brands use consumers’ fear to influence the buying decision.

Fear is the most visceral and primal emotion. It’s our survival instinct to keep us safe. Emotional fear can break through the mundane noise of life and have a profound, lasting effect on the human psyche. Fear is the most excellent persuader to make us do things and sometimes buy things that hopefully give us peace of mind. People can fear anything from missing out, pain, failure, losing, uncertainty, the unknown, or death.

If fear is the most excellent persuader, it is hard for brands not to use it, especially when it is hard to stand out in this noisy world. Fear has been the principal instrument for religions, politicians, advocacy groups, media, and brands. Without it, brands have little persuasive ability.

Neuroscience has found that our brain is always wired to search and seek safety, moving away from a perceived threat towards a perceived reward. Fear is precisely how the stock market works. For instance, there are five times more threat circuits compared to reward circuits in the brain. In a study, the University of Bath, U.K., found that the fear of failure motivates consumers far more than the promise of success. Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, an occupational psychologist, says that people are more motivated by fear of losing something than the reward of gaining something.

Fear of missing out and fear of messing up.

What is Fear?

Fear can be experienced in two forms: physical and emotional.

Fight or flight is our physical response to fear. Where our body either stand its ground or runs for its life. Anxiety comes with sweating, rapid heart rate, and high adrenaline levels.

The emotional response is highly personalized, starting with a chemical reaction in our brain. For every person and situation, the fear factor is different. Some people are adrenaline junkies, thriving on fear-induced experiences like extreme sports or watching scary movies. The net outcome is a fear-induced positive. For others, these situations are avoided at all costs because these fear-inducing experiences are undesirable. It’s through emotional fear that brands try to convert us.

Fear in the Moment

When something scares us, we are on high alert. We quickly focus on the here and now. For instance, you feel your heart pounding in your throat as you fight for air. Precisely what a brand wants you to do — pay attention. It does not guarantee a sale, but hopefully, it gets your brand on their shopping list.

Several research studies done in the 1960s found too little fear wasn’t enough to create an action, and too much fear created a defensive reaction like denial. You have to find the sweet spot.

The relevance is essential. The fear portrayed must be related to the person’s psyche and phobias. If you recently had a heart attack, you will pay attention to every warning/danger concerning your health (i.e. diet, fried foods, smoking), especially if it was the cause of your heart attack. Targeted fear is more effective because your target is ready to listen and is desperate for a solution — your brand’s solution.

Macro Fears

There is always a prevailing crisis that captures the world’s imagination through sensationalized news reports and documentaries. The broad topics range from economic catastrophe, environmental annihilation, health epidemics or pandemics, and political upheaval or war. Many brands use these fears to help promote their products or causes. Climate change has been a big one for the last decade. Today, the coronavirus has superseded all other worries. Next will be the economic fall-out and the fear of the unknown.

Fear of germs and fear of climate change.

Micro Fears

Micro fears are fears directly related to personal situations and individual psyche. The personality and behavioural profile model DiSC identified four common fears based on its four personality styles: Dominant, Influencing, Steady, and Compliant. Each personality type is motivated by different factors based on environment, heredity, and role models, but their underlining behaviour is influence by fear. In each case, there is a different common fear.

Source: www.discprofile.com

The two most common styles globally are Influence and Steadiness, closely followed by Conscientiousness. More women than men residing in the Influence (32%) and Steady (33%) styles, whereas more men occupy Compliant (30%). Interestingly, more Americans are Dominate (17%) or Influencing and significantly less are Compliant (13%). Of course, these numbers are very black and white. Most of us are a blend of these four styles. For instance, many brands focus on the fear of rejection and the fear of losing security/stability. Nobody wants to miss out.

Fear of rejection.
Fear of insecurity.

Scared Straight

Many advocacy groups want people to stop deviant behaviour like smoking, alcohol & drug abuse, drinking & driving, gun violence, unsafe sexual practices, animal cruelty and eating disorders. Telling people what they shouldn’t do is hard. Sociologist and author of How Fear Works Frank Furedi says “…advocacy groups use ‘surveys’ and ‘research,’ rather than the language of good and evil, to claim that a particular problem is getting worse and that unless Something Is Done, it will engulf the whole of society.”

In many cases, the target is foolish young men whose hormones are driving them towards risky behaviour. They don’t listen to anyone, not even their mothers. So why would they listen to a brand commercial or print ad? There is an urgent need to change their behaviour as death rates are highest among 16 to 23-year-old males (until they reach 60 to 70). In most cases, these campaigns try to use fear to knock some sense into these delinquents. Making deviant behaviour uncool is the goal.

While these campaigns win awards, I’m not sure they change behaviour. Don’t get me wrong; these are dangerous situations that deserve serious attention. But is scaring people to death sustainable? Fear mongering has been around longer than I’ve been alive. Religions are notorious for putting the fear of God in sinners. The fear they used years ago wouldn’t be beneficial today unless you are Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. So far, his ability to perpetuate fear seems to be — unfortunately — sustainable.

Fear of death.

Risk Averse

Society has become more risk-averse since the advent of helicopter parents. These parents sought to protect their children from everything imaginable from accidental injuries to terrorists, child molesters, sexual predators, drug gangs, and crazy killers lurking in the dark — and now pandemic viruses.

As people age, they become more risk-averse. An Economic Journal study found that regardless of income, wealth, and education, risk appetite falls as investors grow older. Millennials are also showing signs of risk aversion. Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that Millennials started saving money for retirement around the age of 24. In contrast, Generation X began at the age of 30, and Baby Boomers didn’t start saving until they were 35.

Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, says, “…most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history, and yet fear levels are high…” Top of mind for many Americans is a devastating shooting in a school, mall, church, office, or at a social event.

If we critically look at the evidence, the top fears aren’t killing us like the media and social channels would want us to believe. To put COVID-19 in perspective, 634,000 Americans die of heart disease every year. At the time of writing, over 100,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19. My guess would be over 75 percent of the media channels are consumed with Coronavirus fear.

Our lives have become much more comfortable, thanks to technology, government systems, and economic stability, but people are more afraid than ever. Now that COVID-19 has entered the picture, fear is at an all-time high. Brands understand this fear. They are more than willing to show how they can help make your life better for a price.

Fear of health.

Risk Takers

Like Yin and Yang, there is a positive side to fear. Adrenaline junkies respect and reverence of fear; they see both the challenge and the reward of fear. They thrive on adrenaline by facing fear directly. Extreme sports are all about risk management and controlling fear in a way that isn’t debilitating. In a study published in Health Psychology, researchers found a correlation between extreme sports and transformational changes in confidence and sense of self. But, let’s be real, many of these daredevils die — fear or no fear. However, people, who can embrace their fears and face them head-on are reported to be happier, more stable, and able to handle life’s ups and downs.

Adrenaline junkies.

Buying Peace of Mind

Fear is what keeps us alive. No shortage of fears exists in consumers’ minds. Brands that get it right tap into the instinct for self-preservation, which, at its core, motivates most of our decisions. Brands need to be there to help consumers survive and flourish.

Fear isn’t a weapon to prey on consumers’ underlining insecurities but more to help them embrace truth. It shouldn’t be condescending, finger-wagging or hopeless. Creating an emotionally distressed state should come with a definite benefit. In many cases, fear only creates a defensiveness reaction of denial, anger, disgust, and avoidance. No one benefits from de-moralization except the righteous activist who frightens and morally condemns people’s actions, shaming them into conversion. Consumers need to see a better future with courage, trust, hope, love, and solidarity. Healthy fear creates attention and breaks through the noise, but it must come with a sustainable solution. As British philosopher, Bertrand Russell once said, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

Fear can be the starting point of a great brand relationship. Show them how your brand can help with practical information and resources, not just scare them to death.

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Suddenly Corona Beer is in Danger of Becoming a Victim of Coronavirus

We all know there is no link between Corona beer and the Coronavirus, but they have an unfortunate coincidence of sharing the same name. After 100 years of building a formidable beer brand, Corona is helplessly watching its brand name become a victim of a devastating global pandemic. Prior to Coronavirus, Corona Extra was the third-most popular beer in the United States. Coronavirus is becoming this century’s biggest catastrophic causing untold amounts of mental and physical mayhem on people, societies, businesses, and countries. Coronavirus destruction will live in the annals of history longer than any pale lager. Suddenly, Corona’s brand name is under attack with no clear direction of what they should do.

Fear Mongering

The first bad press Corona got in association with Coronavirus was from 5W Public Relations. They surveyed 737 U.S. beer drinkers and vigorously promoted their results: 38 percent of beer-drinking consumers would not buy Corona under any circumstances due to concerns about Coronavirus. They also claimed that 4 percent of people who previously drank Corona would stop drinking it — a rounding error.

PRWeek received the release but determined that “it was lacking in credibility…due to previous interactions with 5W and Torossian [CEO of 5W], who has courted controversy in the past and is not averse to a little self-promotion.” The 5W website shows no connection to beer consumers. But they got the results they were looking for. Mainstream media (like CBS News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox, Vice and New York Post) jumped on the story, focusing on the 38 percent stats without any further investigation. Constellation Brands CEO and President Bill Newlands, owner of Corona, had to address the situation head on. He stated that “these claims simply do not reflect our business performance and consumer sentiment, which includes feedback from our distributor and retailer partners across the country.”

We all know that Corona beer does not causes Coronavirus, at least I hope we do. But people are scared and drinking a beer that shares its name with the virus can make some people uncomfortable. Is this the beginning of Corona beer’s demise or just bad research?

Negative Brand Names

The world is over saturated with brand names, making it almost impossible to break through the marketing noise. Wine brand names have tried to break this barrier with negatively charged brand names. With wine brands popping-up on shelves everywhere like Frog’s Piss, Earthquake, Killer, Fat Bastard, Prisoner, and BoomBoom. Negatively charged brand names are cutting edge. They are notorious and risqué like Fcuk fashions, Heart Attack Grill, Monster Energy drink, Skinny Bitch apparel, and Raging Bitch beer.

While negative words can generate negative feelings, they also create marketing opportunities because they are different and memorable. However, research has shown that extremely negative brand names can create consumer avoidance. But humour and attitude based negative brand names can create excitement, savviness, sensuousness, hipness and daringness that appeals to Millennials. Negative brand names challenge conventions and stand out from the crowd, but I don’t think this is where the Corona beer brand wants to go. It prefers golden sandy beaches, turquoise waters and clear blue skies.

Brand Name Casualty

Every brand works hard to build positive associations through product performance, employees, advertising, promotions, sponsorship, events, customer interactions, and social and community engagements. Once a negative association starts to take hold, its hard for people to separate the two.

A similar unfortunate situation developed for Ayds (pronounce as “aids”) candy. They were a popular appetite-suppressant candy in the 1970s and early 1980s until Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was discovered. The horrible disease also caused massive weight loss in patients. To try to save the brand name, they changed it to Diet Ayds. The negative connotation was still too great to overcome. The brand eventually went out of business.   

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating hurricane to hit southeast New Orleans killed 1,836 people and affected over 15 million residents. At the time, the name Katrina was ranked the 246th most popular female baby name according to nameberry.com. Seven years later, the name’s popularity has dropped 696 spots to 942. Once a negative connotation is placed on a name, it’s hard for people to move on. Once a brand name becomes negative, its almost impossible to turn the tide.

Drowning Sorrows

As the saying goes “when times are good, people drink — when times are bad, people drink.” Beer and other alcoholic beverages sales continue to rise as people self-isolate and worry about their future. No sports, no clubs, no concerts, no events of any kind, yet Nielsen data showed that beer sales rose 34 percent year-over-year for the week ending on March 21. Sales of Constellation Brand products, owner of Corona, are up higher at 39 percent, led by the Corona family, which is up 50 percent. Impressive until you compare it against toilet paper sales which are up 160 percent!

Corona Beer Virus

Since the end of January, the hashtag “corona beer virus”, “beer virus” and “beer coronavirus” have continued to trend upwards on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Some followers support of the brand, while others mock the virus and beer with creative memes. As the Coronavirus situation continues to intensify and people are in lockdown, connecting with friends and family through video conferencing online is the new normal. Corona beer has become an online celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Kellan Terry, senior manger of communications at Brandwatch, says that young people tend to laugh at what they consider to be dystopian events as a coping mechanism online. Having your brand associated with a deadly virus isn’t a healthy trend with or without the name.

Then, corona’s next problem appeared. Corona launched an online campaign for their new Corona Hard Seltzer with the slogan “coming ashore soon.” Twitter followers quickly attacked the campaign as “bad timing” and in “poor taste” amid the spread of Coronavirus. Corona promptly removed the slogan.

Beer Branding

Marketing alcohol is like marketing water; its not the taste that matters, its the brand image. In a classic blind taste study done in 1964, regular drinkers of certain brands failed to rate their brand as significantly better than the other samples. In fact, regular drinkers of two of the five types of beer scored other beers significantly higher than the brand that they stated was their favorite. There have been many other studies since with similar results. In 2018, the beer manufactures in the United States spend close to $1.5 billion on advertising. Constellation Brands ranked 2nd with a $368 million ad expenditure on Corona and Modelo. Beer brands live and die on their image. Corona brand marketing executives are likely increasing their own alcohol consumption in these unprecedented times.

Brand Reaction

Corona owner Constellation Brands has over 100 brands in beer, wine, spirits and, more recently, cannabis. Each brand gets its allotted marketing, brand support, and funding. So far, they have been lying low. If sales are good, why rock the boat? Reputation expert Andy Beal says, “The real threat would come if Corona were to dive in and capitalize on this by running some crass social media post.” In light of the seriousness of the situation, he cautions that “they should not make light of it.”

This isn’t about online social strategy (which Corona isn’t involved in). They do the bare minimum on social channels. Sitting on the sidelines and hoping this will eventually blow over isn’t a leader strategy either. The challenge is all alcohol brands make money on the image of people having fun. The Corona brand is all about sandy beaches, hot sun, and total escapism. John Alvarado, SVP of Brand Marketing for Corona Extra says Corona is “a carefree brand that encourages consumers to relax and enjoy life no matter the situation.” The Coronavirus is the antithesis to these positive vibes.

Brand Survival

Today, the Corona virus is attacking the United States with the fierceness never before seen in our lifetime. The Coronavirus crisis is affecting millions of people’s lives and livelihood. Consumers will judge brands on how they helped and stepped-up through these terrible times. Stress can cause people to make inappropriate jokes to lighten the mood; right now, Corona beer is one of those jokes. After all the turmoil, deaths, and dramatic life changes, can Corona bounce back as the king of carefree and sunny times? Will the emotional shock associated with one of the world’s darkest moments destroy the Corona name? Can a brand name live with so many negative connotations? In these catastrophic times more alcohol will be consumed than ever before. Hopefully after the hangover of isolation is over, Corona beer will still live on.

Stay safe and healthy.

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The Power of a Brand – How to Extract Value from Nothing

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.

034_BI1113_BetweenDrinks_slide

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.

Back in 2003 ( an article in The New York Times) TNS Media Intelligence/CMR estimated Aquafina spent $24.6 million and Dasani spent $18.8 million on media, while Evian spent only $800,000.

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.

 

Stunning Design

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.

 

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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.

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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.