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Continuing a series focused on industry craft, Fine partner and chief strategist Josh Kelly looks at how a craft mindset has come to define the beverage industry and influence all aspects of branding, from making to serving, and (most of all) how creatives are guiding the story.

There’s never been a more confusing and refreshing time to be thirsty.

A dizzying array of drinkable brands crams grocery store aisles, bar shelves, and restaurant menus. In the U.S., that’s 6,000+ craft breweries, 9,600+ wineries, 1,500+ craft distilleries, and ubiquitous options in coffee, tea, sodas, bottled waters, energy drinks, and even exotic new ciders, coconut waters, kombuchas, bubble matchas, and chais. Now you’re just making this stuff up.

All these brands can’t reasonably be looking for mass consumer adoption; they’re looking for a more limited, but highly involved, audience. In beverage categories, it falls to marketers to find points all along the “supply chain” to win over those willing to pay a higher price point for a brand that has a story behind every sip.

It’s why craft in the creative trade has become more critical than ever, adding perceived value to the brands you drink.

Read more at The Drum:

Diet Coke, which earlier this month announced a North American branding relaunch featuring a packaging redesign and four new flavors, has now debuted the first ads in the supporting campaign, “Because I Can.”

The brand also announced that it will air a Super Bowl ad for the first time since 1997, but will not preview it before it runs in the game.

In the new Anomaly Los Angeles campaign, aimed at both male and female millennials, the brand has dropped its reliance on celebrities like Taylor Swift. Instead, the ads have a stripped-down approach — young people shown in ordinary settings talking into the camera — that’s meant to appeal to millennials’ craving for “authenticity.” The theme is “doing the things in life that make you happy, no matter what anyone else thinks,” in the brand’s own words.

“We’ve stripped away the glossy marketing and we’re just telling people how good Diet Coke really is,” Danielle Henry, group director of integrated marketing content, Coca-Cola North America, summed up in a statement.

Diet Coke “wanted to present a fresh approach to Diet Coke advertising, while still bringing our loyal current fans along on the journey,” said Rafael Acevedo, Coca-Cola North America’s group director for Diet Coke, adding that the creative is about “having the confidence to do what you want to do and drink what you want to drink…because you can.”

The released ads include the campaign’s first 30-second TV ad (below), starring Gillian Jacobs, known for her roles in the NBC sitcom “Community” and the Netflix romantic comedy series “Love.”

Jacobs is shown buying a Diet Coke from a corner store and saying, as she talks into the camera, that the soda is “delicious” and “makes me feel good… Life is short…just do you, whatever that is. And if you’re in the mood for a Diet Coke, have a Diet Coke.”

Four other, 15-second ads feature a diverse group of young people who were “not selected for their ability to deliver a line on cue,” Henry explained in the Coca-Cola Journey blog. “This is a carefully curated cast of recognizable, up-and-coming actors who are starting to make their mark on culture and who reflect the attitude we want Diet Coke to convey.”

Each ad features a solo actor talking in an ostensibly off-the-cuff way about one of the four new flavors. For instance, in one (above) a red-headed guy says that he drinks the ginger lime flavor because he supports “all things ginger.” All of the ads can be viewed on Diet Coke’s YouTube channel.

The spots were directed by Paul Feig, known for the cult classic TV series “Freak and Geeks” and millennial-friendly movies including “Bridesmaids” and 2016’s “Ghostbusters” re-boot.

from Media Post:

The Campbell Soup Company is introducing what they hope is a younger audience to its products in a creative campaign for V8 Original Vegetable Juice.

v8 the drum screenchow

‘The V is For Vegetables’ is the title of the latest work from Campbell’s, created by agency Anomaly, and its simplistic title is the sentiment the brand is trying to relay to its customers. Drinking V8 Original Vegetable Juice is simple, and simple, plant nutrition is unquestionably good for you.

“V8 is simple nutrition that is unquestionably good you,” said Janda Lukin, vice president of marketing-beverages at Campbell Soup Company. “We know consumers are now paying much more attention to the food they are putting into their bodies and they want to understand the benefits as well as how it fits into their busy lifestyles. Original V8 has no preservatives, no added sugars and a satisfying texture that comes from our unique blend of eight vegetables.”

This health message is meant to ring true with a slightly younger audience (45-plus) than the brand has typically targeted (65-plus). The new campaign hopes to engage consumers by speaking directly to them and answers the question about how V8 fits into their everyday lives.

 This health message is meant to ring true with a slightly younger audience (45-plus) than the brand has typically targeted (65-plus). The new campaign hopes to engage consumers by speaking directly to them and answers the question about how V8 fits into their everyday lives.

“V8 is a convenient, satisfying snack with only 30 calories per serving. It is a great post-workout drink with natural electrolytes and as much potassium as a banana,” said Lukin, who added that in the past the brand has focused more heavily on television, but where the campaign will appear is just as important in reaching new consumers. “We’re capturing their attention where they are in the digital, e-comm space through social media, within health editorial and doctor’s offices, when they are thinking about health and nutrition.”

Read more at The Drum:

Seemingly out of nowhere, LaCroix has become a national phenomenon.

In recent years, publications have commissioned a steady stream of writers to unpack the success of what really just amounts to fizzy, lightly-flavored water in a can — but what a can!

How did this brand become a national sensation, particularly among millennials, after languishing for decades in relative obscurity in the US Midwest?

An in-depth look by Vox last year attributed its success to becoming the anti-soda favorite of LA television writers and finally a social media icon — not to mention a lot of people think it tastes pretty good.

Put more simply, savvy branding, clever social marketing on the cheap, and great timing has led to skyrocketing sales (though the company doesn’t publicly disclose the numbers for each individual brand, it is believed LaCroix has about 10% market sharefor sparkling waters and did $225 million in sales last year — growing about 30%) and a gushing share price for the LaCroix’s corporate parent National Beverage Corporation (up well over 500% over the last 5 years).

And yet, every explanation as to the brand’s wild success leaves one unsatisfied. Explaining tastes and trends is always a bit mysterious. Like walking past two equally good restaurants, with one packed and the other empty, there appears to be little explanation that goes beyond the anecdotal and speculative.

And LaCroix’s parent company won’t weigh in on its own success. It’s notoriously tight-lipped and, according to Bloomberg, doesn’t allow employees to give interviews. It’s 81-year-old CEO, prone to bizarre rants against investors(and whose story is worth reading about), has rarely, if ever, spoken candidly about the brand directly to the media.

One thing is for sure, LaCroix’s popularity really took off over the last few years and doesn’t look like it’s going to fizzle anytime soon.

The Rebirth

LaCroix (pronounced ‘la croy’ — but really should be ‘la krwa’) was born in the early 1980s in La Crosse, Wisconsin, near the banks of the Mississippi River.

It was started by the now defunct G. Heileman Brewing Company, seemingly as part of an effort to diversify beyond beer. The brand didn’t seem to gain much traction and it was sold to Florida-based National Beverage Corporation in 1996.

National Beverage, which has a portfolio of other drinks, ordered a reboot of LaCroix sometime in the early 2000s. The history of its rebranding is well-documented but the gist is that the company took the drink to branding experts and LaCroix’s packaging was reborn — alongside an increasing number of flavors.

LaCroix’s choice of can during their big relaunch was unorthodox to say the least.

Its neon camouflage seems more suited for the set of Saved by the Bell, than next to turmeric-infused kombucha on the shelves of Whole Foods. It seemed to play on a kind of 80s nostalgia, setting it apart from fancy glass bottles, as well as the familiar plastic tubes that usually carry water.

Indeed, in its 2015 homage to LaCroix, Mary H. K. Choi wrote in The New York Timesthat her trepidations about drinking the sparkling water was “partly due to the cans’ hideousness. The first time I drank LaCroix, I half expected it to be filled with self-tanner.”

But that might be the genius of it.

“In a world where every consumer beverage (every whiskey, craft beer or kombucha) is designed to the nines and trying to out-hip the hip, this package somehow conjures up an 80s anti-design, punk rock aesthetic and says ‘We’re not trying too hard,’” Douglas Riccardi, owner and creative director of Memo NY, a design and branding firm, told LinkedIn.

The package was also a good way to distinguish itself from the plastic-y competition, while going head-to-head with diet soda, whose sales had been slipping.

According to Vanessa Walker, a former executive vice president of sales and marketing at LaCroix, and a key figure in steering the brand during its rise to national fame, the can design helped drive its marketing strategy to compete with diet drinks.

“I never saw our competition as either imported sparkling brands,” Walker told LinkedIn. “Instead, I decided to position the brand against diet soda.”

“Consumers already equated the can to soda or diet soda, so LaCroix could be an any-time, multi-use replacement to anything artificial.”

It’s constant roll-out of new flavors also set it apart from rivals and keeps consumers interested.

LaCroix has added new flavors like crazy over the last few years. While most sparkling water usually has variations on lemon, lime and, perhaps, something more exotic like peach, LaCroix has nearly two dozen flavors, including pamplemousse (French for grapefruit) and coconut.

That makes people drink more, according to Megan Hambleton, US Drink Analyst for Mintel.

“Continued innovation in flavor has also helped set LaCroix apart from its competitors, with both basic and exotic sounding flavors sparking conversation and in turn, trial,” according to Hambleton.

In a sense, LaCroix has become the anti-Perrier — less snooty, more approachable: the kind of fizzy water you’d want to have a beer with. At around $5 for a 12-pack at most stores, you don’t feel guilty guzzling a few in an evening.

The benefits of no marketing budget

Also unlike its rivals, it became the sparkling water of the social media age. Not only do its neon colors pop on Instagram (more luck thank strategy it seems), but it built a community of consumers from the ground up as social networks began to spread over the last decade.

As Vox pointed out, there was no “patient zero” for LaCroix’s social media efforts. There was no photo with Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé sipping a can on a yacht off Santa Catalina Island.

Rather, LaCroix worked steadily to build the brand through the clever use of platforms like Instagram (it currently has nearly 120,000 followers) and Facebook (430,000 followers), positioning itself as a sign of cool for millennials rather than for middle aged Midwesterners —the drink’s original consumers.

As Digiday reported, the brand didn’t just hire big name influencers, rather it engaged with users who did not have big followings but still loved tagging the brand in their posts — a grassroots approach that kept the brand authentic even as it grew more powerful.

The approach may not have been necessarily on purpose. LaCroix’s marketing team was given a slim budget that could not come close to competing with its bigger rivals. Instead, according to Walker, she built a small team of young marketers poached from all over the company, who worked using social media channels to rally the brand.

“I don’t think inside any major company, you’d have a team of millennials driving all content but we almost did — I was oldest by far of this rockstar team,” she says.

Staying away from television ads also helped to maintain the drink’s exclusivity and allure— and who wants their drinks being hawked next to commercials for prescription drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and toilet cleaners anyway?

And that’s probably the big takeaway: consumers of LaCroix can still feel like they discovered it — like a hip restaurant with no markings — rather than being cajoled into buying it.

Creating that feeling is a stroke of genius for modern day marketers.

What’s not in the can can’t hurt you

In 2015, it even teamed up with the people behind ‘clean-eating’ fad diet Whole30, which advocated the drink as a zero-calorie alternative to people who couldn’t have soda and hated still water.

The move fit perfectly with the other part of LaCroix’s success: relaying to customers what isn’t in the can, namely artificial flavors and sugar.

As a Canadian, I had never heard of LaCroix until I arrived at a tech company whose fridges are stocked with the water.

But while researching the beverage, a colleague from Ohio told me that growing up in the Midwest, LaCroix was a staple of the working class who were trying to ween themselves off Diet Coke. A recent Bloomberg article has reaffirmed the stereotype that LaCroix had become to soda what methadone had become to heroin, an off-ramp to addictive substances.

Indeed, LaCroix’s zero calories, zero additives formula fits perfectly within this generation’s backlash against sugary, strongly-flavored drinks.

The trends, along with the raw numbers are on its side:

report in Bloomberg showed that retailers sold $2 billion worth of carbonated and flavored waters in 2016. Between 2011 and 2016, carbonated water sales were up 70.4 percent and flavored water was up 59.5 percent over the same period, according to the same data.

According to stats by Nielsen, soft drinks and diet soft drinks of all kinds have been on the decline since at least 2013 — and probably even before that.

The trend seems to still be in favor of LaCroix and, if sugary drinks become as taboo as smoking, then it’ll stay that way.

LaCroix isn’t without rivals of course. Coca Cola’s Topo Chico purchase and Pepsi’s new Aquafina sparkling water lines have tried to imitate LaCroix’s success. So far they don’t seemed to have slowed the brand down. That doesn’t mean that more competitors won’t come breathing down its neck, of course.

Fizzle out?

So how long can all this success last?

Probably awhile.

“They seem eager to keep their community engaged with new flavors, new sponsorships, new activations,” says Riccardi.

Any hiccups he says, and LaCroix can just innovate out of them with new designs or flavors.

“If this effort starts losing traction, they have a lot of freedom to evolve it in a million directions,” he says.

That said, Walker warns that as the drink becomes more ubiquitous, there’s more of a need to project a coherent vision to survive amidst new competition.

“The brand will need to stay one step ahead now,” she says. “Other brands are springing up everywhere. The team is very important in the early days of a brand, then the brand becomes more important.”

“However, if the brand team becomes a rotating door, the special magic and momentum will be lost — making it vulnerable.”

And yet when one sees the Great Walls of colorful LaCroix in any Whole Foods around the country, one also has to wonder: can the drink retain its countercultural — and counterintuitive — cool that millennials long for?

Coca-Cola is buying Topo Chico, the Mexican mineral water brand that has grown a cult following among Texas’ hip beverage connoisseurs, the head of the brand’s United States presence, Gerardo Galván, confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Monday.

A press release from Topo Chico’s Monterrey, Mexico-based parent company Arca Continental — already the second largest Coke bottler in Latin America — said The Coca-Cola Company bought the rights to the brand in the U.S. for $220 million.

Image result for topo chico

The deal was made through the American beverage giant’s Venturing & Emerging Brands unit, which aims to grow a portfolio of “smaller, high-value brands” that don’t make soda, like Honest Tea and ZICO coconut water, according to Coca-Cola’s website.