Putting the ‘new’ back in new-age beverages

Marketing to youth has got to be the most fun you can have in this business with your clothes on. As well as being the only sector that demands unorthodox, off-the-wall ideas, youth marketing requires a deep understanding of what makes tweens and teens tick. To that end, Strategy gave four (real) plugged-in youth marketing consultants fantasy briefs and asked them to strut their stuff; following is the proposed strategy for an herbal soft drink.

Marketing to youth has got to be the most fun you can have in this business with your clothes on. As well as being the only sector that demands unorthodox, off-the-wall ideas, youth marketing requires a deep understanding of what makes tweens and teens tick. To that end, Strategy gave four (real) plugged-in youth marketing consultants fantasy briefs and asked them to strut their stuff; following is the proposed strategy for an herbal soft drink.

The brief

To: Jeff Spriet, Wiretap

From: Jack Bromley,

VP marketing, Softco

Jeff,

We’re just putting the finishing touches on a new herbal soft drink for teens, and we need your help. During the development period, a lot of newcomers swarmed onto the field – to the point where it may be just about saturated. We need to grab a lot of attention fast, so I’m looking for a name, logo, packaging and marketing plan that will really stand out from the crowd. We’ll run with whatever you come up with – just get us something, fast.

The strategy

It is said that cows raised in fields bordered by electrical fencing won’t stray beyond the boundaries of the fence even when it is removed. This anecdote came to mind as I read the fantasy brief above, and realized I had been presented with the elusive Holy Grail in advertising: a blank canvas.

No product name that handcuffs. No client expectations to manage. No focus group findings to pore through… only a challenge to come up with a positioning for a new herbal beverage for teens.

So, where’s the fence? Well, in the interest of practicality (and since Wiretap relishes working on underdog brands), let’s border the field on one side by assuming that the maker of this product is operating with a limited budget. Onward to the positioning cave, Batman.

It is my belief that behind every great brand proposition, there are two eurekas and a yardstick. One eureka comes from finding a pervasive consumer insight, another comes from an astute examination of the competition, and the yardstick assesses the fit with the soul of the brand and/or parent company. For the purposes of this hypothetical exercise, we can leave the yardstick at home.

Consumer eureka

Do teens need an ‘herbal’ soft drink? You could ask a teen in a focus group and he’ll say he needs – and wants – to eat better but, in this instance, where political correctness can rear its ugly head, we prefer to take the clipboard out of his hands and look at the relevant facts:

* Teen obesity is on the rise

* Busy moms and dads are relying more and more on fast food and allowing teens to fend for themselves at mealtime

* Nearly every ‘healthy’ menu item introduced at a fast food chain is mothballed after six months. (Can we have a moment of silence for the McLean burger?)

I’m starting to believe there may be a reason why I’ve never seen a V-8 commercial on MuchMusic.

So why is this ‘healthy’ segment of the beverage market growing? Well, I seem to recall a statistic from my Nike days, indicating that less than one in ten Nike products were being used in authentic sport activity. Is it any wonder, in this equally badge-conscious arena, that the key word in the crowded ‘new-age beverage’ category is ‘new’? As such, I believe the right proposition for our product is not one that espouses a rational health-based benefit, but rather one that makes a strong emotive connection.

Competitive eureka

The vast number of ‘healthy’ beverage launches (i.e. Sobe, Guru, Whoop Ass and even the new herbal vodka drink, Gruv) that have come to market since Red Bull first burst on the rave scene would seem to indicate a very lucrative and penetrable market. Upon further inspection, however, it would appear that we are past the early adoption phase. In fact, as I write this, supermarket megabrand Loblaws is hawking a three-litre plastic jug of guarana and ginseng-infused green iced tea for $3.99. Yikes.

In addition, there is little differentiation between the offerings. While each may consider itself unique, eight-ounce bullets of Guru and Red Bull are rubbing elbows with Snapple and Sobe juices (both health-infused and regular varieties) behind the cold glass in most stores, and each bottle I pick up boasts the near-identical ingredients of ginkgo biloba, guarana, ginseng and echinacea.

The crowded marketplace we face is both good and bad. Good, because the people before us have evangelized the benefits of these herb-infused beverages. Bad, because we are very late into the market and there is no reason for corner stores to make room for us on their crowded shelves. (Who can deny the effect of Gatorade being first to market in its battle with All Sport/Powerade and the marketing machines of Coke/Pepsi?)

If the competitive review tells us anything, it’s that we’re late to the party and we must distinguish and distance ourselves from our rivals. Compounding this, we have a near parity liquid.

In search of a brand mentor, I choose Altoids. After all, the world didn’t need another breath mint until that little strong box came along.

Choosing the name

This process could be an article in itself, so I just chose Tonic9. Why Tonic9? Well, Tonic8 sounded like a verb and Tonic10 seemed a little heavy. Actually, I wanted to pick an ‘anti-name’ – something generic that hinted at healthy/ herbal ingredients and didn’t sprinkle too much advertising fairy dust. Enough said.

Choosing the positioning

It’s wonderful when you can find a positioning that addresses both targets (consumer and trade) in one fell swoop. Looking at the analysis above, the word ‘new’ is a consistent theme that bubbles to the surface. Indeed, the upright convenience store cooler is looking more and more like that mass tapestry of cans on the beer store wall. Late into the market and with limited funds, Tonic9 must become an antithesis to the status quo if it is to survive or even get listings.

Put antithesis into liquid form and you get the word antidote: the pillar of my recommended positioning. Or, put into classic marketing iambic pentameter:

To Canadian teens, Tonic9 is the beverage that is the antidote for the ordinary.

Our juxtaposition versus the ordinary underlines the importance of bringing something new to this fickle, trend-conscious market.

Adding the big idea

Positionings are boardroom shut-ins. It takes big ideas to bring them out into the light. In this case, the big idea is to package Tonic9 in a fat, plastic syringe.

Now, I say the word syringe and you likely cringe. Some of you may be thinking that, with all the negative associations with illicit drug use among teens, packaging the product in a syringe will put Tonic9 into a public relations snake pit. I would counter by saying that, one, far more syringes are used in vaccinations than to inject illegal narcotics and, two, PR is like cholesterol – it’s hard to tell the good stuff from the bad.

In actual fact, negative press from a conservative media entity (such as the Globe and Mail) is likely free advertising and a ringing endorsement of the product for my core target. Controversy sells. There is no better living example than NBA pincushion Dennis Rodman, who managed only six points a game during his time with the Chicago Bulls. Sales of Rodman authentic jerseys for the same period were in the top five, however.

Adding legs

The greatest positionings also have legs. To that end, think guerrilla teams walking around in hospital gowns dragging IV stands/bags filled with Tonic9, think M*A*S*H trucks parked outside cool youth venues with nurses in white uniforms administering ‘vaccinations,’ or think test-tube rack display units that attach to the glass of the convenience store cooler (thereby ensuring up-front placement), and you begin to get the picture.

Let’s see, hypothetical positioning, hypothetical name and hypothetical tactics – that about covers it. Now, who wants to grab a hypothetical beer before they turn the fence back on?

____________________________

Jeff Spriet is the founder of Wiretap, a guerrilla marketing consultancy based in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 535-9038 or jeff@wiretap.ca.