Why is David Ortiz shilling for vitaminwater?

Advertising deconstructed.
June 11 2007 10:11 AM

Vitaminwater, Everywhere

Why is David Ortiz shilling for the frou-frou beverage?

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Gatorade has done well with jocks by emphasizing its hard-core research into which balance of ingredients best replenishes the athlete. At least one ad showed star athletes on treadmills, hooked up to electrodes as scientists observed them. At all times, Gatorade's brand image is about excelling on the playing field and finding the will to win. It never deviates from this message, which bolsters its credibility. If you're a jock-y high-school kid choosing a drink to buy after baseball practice, do you want the one that Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning endorse? Or the one that Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent endorse? The merest whiff of a girly or nonsport vibe can kill a brand for this kind of consumer. You'd never see Gatorade make an ad with a nonathlete celebrity.

Glacéau, the company that makes vitaminwater, was recently bought by Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. The purchase is part of Coke's ongoing struggle to find a toehold in the noncarbonated sector. Carbonated soft drinks—or CSDs, in the industry parlance—have long been on the downswing, as the global population ages and becomes more health-conscious. (You don't see many 60-year-olds, or yoga enthusiasts, glugging Cokes and Fantas.) Coke was late in getting rolling with Dasani, its bottled-water answer to Pepsi's Aquafina, and was foiled again when it made an aborted attempt to buy Gatorade, only to see Pepsi sweep in and close the deal. Glacéau has had triple-digit growth for the last three years running and gives Coke an instant winner in the booming "enhanced water" category.

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Back in 2002, when I wrote a story about Coke's then-nascent noncarbonated efforts, Coke marketers told me their model was Coke's very successful Japanese operation, which had designed noncarbonated drinks catering to every sector of Japanese society. There was a flavored milk substitute drink for children, something called "salad water" that was chocked with nutrients, a drink that supposedly boosted a woman's bust size, and, of course, various sports drinks. The key, I felt at the time, was the extreme specialization. Each drink was targeted at a highly specific niche.

Now vitaminwater seems to be taking the opposite tack. Can it be all things to all people? That remains to be seen. Of course, I'm sold: I'll drink whatever Big Papi tells me to.

Grade: B. The ads are entertaining and appealing. And the Ortiz/Urlacher badminton spot touches on one of my favorite barstool conversations: What if famous pro athletes tried their hand at different sports than the ones they've become known for? Here vitaminwater takes a page from a Nike ad I enjoyed a few years ago, which imagined an alternate universe in which Randy Johnson was a pro bowler and Andre Agassi played shortstop for the Red Sox. That ad strived for an inspirational vibe, while the vitaminwater ad is played for laughs. Either way, it's fun stuff for me and my fellow trans-sport dreamers.

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A few housekeeping items:

In my column about the miniseries The Starter Wife, I mused that there might soon be a $100 million movie entirely underwritten by a single brand. A few readers wrote in to suggest that this had already happened, pointing me to the 1988 film Mac and Me. First off, I am eternally grateful for having this movie—considered by many the worst of all time—brought to my attention. In terms of product placement, it features an extended dance scene that takes place entirely inside a McDonald's, with a cameo from Ronald McDonald himself. Also, the aliens in the movie literally must drink Coca-Cola to live. However, I did some research, and according to an Ad Age column from that era there was in fact no quid pro quo between these brands and the film's producers. Also, there's no way the budget was anywhere near $100 million—have you seen those alien special effects?

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