Dare to be deviant

Think different. Really different in the case of premium beverage manufacturer Jones Soda, which, muses its Alberta-born founder Peter van Stolk, isn't even really a beverage brand. He says his nine-year-old company, best known for using the inspired photographs of its consumers as labels, isn't competing against the Cokes and Pepsis of the world, nor does he want it to.

Think different. Really different in the case of premium beverage manufacturer Jones Soda, which, muses its Alberta-born founder Peter van Stolk, isn’t even really a beverage brand. He says his nine-year-old company, best known for using the inspired photographs of its consumers as labels, isn’t competing against the Cokes and Pepsis of the world, nor does he want it to.

‘They’ve been in the game probably 125 years longer and have billions of dollars,’ he says from the company’s head office in Seattle, Wash. ‘Our way of thinking is that Jones is going to beat Coke or Pepsi at a different game. That requires us to have a different way of thinking.’ So the Jones mantra isn’t simply to be – using the overused term – ‘out of the box,’ but to be in another box altogether by modelling the beverage brand as a fashion label.

For the relatively small brand, safe isn’t even an option. Challenging the boundaries of the category is helping to infuse a sense of vitality and unpredictability into Jones, a key component of its success. Even less agile brands in stodgy categories such as energy are toying with abandoning the conventional, seeing the strategy as a way to get noticed.

The first step, says van Stolk, is actually understanding what people – not consumers – are passionate about and then engaging them in those arenas. ‘[People are] passionate about music, fashion, sports, motorcycles, cars, the opposite sex,’ he says. ‘If that’s the case, I’m never going to pigeonhole myself into thinking that they’re really fired up about soda.’

And that, he believes, is why many marketers today are struggling to connect. ‘You have to put your brand into reality check. I think marketers – and this is my fundamental belief – believe their own shit way too much. But if you take the attitude that [consumers] don’t need your stuff, it makes you stronger and much better at what you do.’

And what Jones has managed to do is carve out an enviable position as a highly desirable and very nimble lifestyle brand. Van Stolk says that for the past few years fashion brand Quiksilver has been his business and marketing inspiration for Jones, because really good fashion brands reflect what’s going on in society and adapt trends early. Moreover, when done well, they actually evolve with their consumer base.

So when the ‘beverage’ company entered into a licensing agreement with Kaysville, Utah-based Lime Lite Marketing to launch a line of lip balm in 2004, consumers actually embraced the idea, with sales that have been ‘very good,’ he says.

And, more recently, when the brand launched its free independent music Web site, www.myjonesmusic.com, for kids to upload free music last August, they flocked to it: from nominal interest to more than half a million surfers to date, and from one band to about a thousand indie Canadian bands. ‘It grows every month and we’re not advertising it.’

OK, but how to get folks passionate about furnaces? You don’t, admits Roxanne Pearce, VP marketing and brands for Direct Energy. What they are increasingly passionate about are their homes.

It’s this pearl of wisdom that helped mould the energy supplier’s recent category-breaking marketing campaign, which launched in early April. With renovation and designing more popular than ever, and women responsible for almost all purchases in the home, it was time to move the big-ticket purchase from one made rationally and almost exclusively by men, to one that was more emotional and ‘inclusive’ of women – a shift to move the pricey purchase into the home improvement category.

Pearce, who has also held marketing posts at Sobey’s and Telus, says when given the opportunity to change the marketing, she pushed hard, having no desire to do anything similar to what was out there, work she quite frankly considers ‘boring.’

‘I am frustrated by how consistent the communication and the positioning is in the category,’ she says. ‘Any brand that’s going to be successful has to be relevant to the consumer but at the same time be differentiated from the competition. I found everyone in the category using a similar style and similar value proposition and no one was standing out.’

Tony Miller, VP/CD at Sharpe Blackmore EURO RSCG, the Toronto agency responsible for the creative, says the TV and print work were inspired by home décor magazines and the ever-increasing number of home design shows. ‘[Furnaces] are a low-interest but necessary purchase,’ he says. ‘We wanted to make it more interesting for people.’

The TV spot, therefore, is a take on the popular reality television construct – the ‘big reveal.’ A married couple is led blindfolded into their home. Expecting a design overhaul, they are bewildered when their ‘new home’ is unveiled with nothing perceptibly different. The host advises them to feel the difference: the cool air now wafting through the house.

FujiFilm’s another company, though on a smaller scale, having success with turning convention somewhat on its ears. With the recent launch of its Eterna 500 line of motion picture professional film for cinematographers and cameramen, the brand wanted to take a ‘new, fresh and non-traditional’ approach to differ the brand from Kodak, its key competitor, says Maria Carapina, the company’s manager of marketing communications.

‘If you look at other ads, the creative is more straightforward. If it’s an ad for a video camera, it’s just a product shot. Here the focus isn’t the product. We wanted to get into the mind-set of a director of photography.’

So in one of the three ads designed by Toronto’s John St., the script is pictured on a glass-top table – with scribbles of shot notes in the margin – a television converter, laptop and glass of perhaps scotch on the rocks nearby. ‘He’s just had the scripts sent to him and he’s taken them out of the envelope,’ Carapina explains.

The new positioning has really hit home with the very select target audience of about 800 DOPs across the country, says Peter Bolt, a partner at the agency. So much so that Fuji has since requested a direct marketing piece using the creative as well as a 90-second spot that comically details how exigent screenwriters can be. It was used as a promotional tool in cinemas during the national launch of the film.

‘[The creative] breaks out of the normal way of advertising motion picture film because it shows what [cinematographers] go through. They’re still consumers. They want to know how it will affect their day-to-to life.’

Philippe Garneau, partner and ECD at Toronto’s GWP Brand Engineering, says all this category trumping is reflective of the ‘new wave of advertising’ which prizes the positioning over the utility of the product – a far cry from strategies of the past.

‘In the initial stage of advertising, the brand survived on its competency, what it did,’ says Garneau. ‘If it’s a car it moved you around. In the ’80s we sold lifestyles. We said these kinds of people use this product, and we were hoping by proxy the people would buy Armani suits because they wanted to look like Richard Gere. Now we’re into a new wave where a company says: ‘These are my values and I can produce anything I fucking well please because [consumers] agree with my values.”

And it’s this philosophy which, when taken to its extreme, allows brands like Jones Soda and Virgin (see sidebar) to jump seamlessly from one category to another.