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?

The Spot:Football star Brian Urlacher and baseball star David Ortiz have somehow entered an international badminton competition. Ortiz takes a quick swig of vitaminwater before taking the court for match point. In the ensuing action, he bashes the shuttlecock so violently that it lodges in the shin bone of his opponent. "Vitaminwater! Try it!" shouts the announcer.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I am helpless to resist the charms of this ad, as it features Red Sox slugger David Ortiz—the sofa-shaped designated hitter who is among my favorite athletes of all time. But the spot is also well executed in its own right. It's got great production values (they've faithfully captured the glittering world of high-stakes badminton) and a chuckle-inducing finish (after we see the birdie penetrate that poor fellow's tibia, we cut to another vanquished foe on the sidelines—a guy with a patch over his eye—who apparently fell victim to an earlier Ortiz smash).

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This is vitaminwater's first television campaign. (By the way, the company requested we call it vitaminwater;I don't like to kowtow to corporate punctuation demands, but Slate's copy desk overruled me.) Previously—judging only on the basis of its packaging, name, ingredients, and the people I'd noticed drinking it—I'd always thought of vitaminwater as a somewhat frou-frou beverage. The hip thing to sip after a Pilates workout, if you're not sipping Evian. When I saw this ad with Urlacher and Ortiz, I assumed it was an effort to rebrand the drink—shifting it toward the jockier realm of team sports and positioning it as an alternative to Gatorade.

Then I saw a second spot with former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. It shows her on a fictional European talk show, playing a guitar. When she sips her vitaminwater, the host mentions that it can help improve focus and concentration. Like the badminton ad, this spot features a celebrity and a sight gag (an angry cobra bites the host), but the Clarkson spot makes no reference whatsoever to sports or exercise. In another ad, rapper 50 Cent conducts a symphony after drawing strength from a bottle of vitaminwater. Again, the ad departs totally from the world of athletics. Which confused me—who exactly is this drink supposed to be for?

According to Rohan Oza, vitaminwater's senior vice president of marketing, the answer is: everybody. "There's no age group. It's 8 to 80. And there's no particular psychographic. It's just anyone looking for a healthy drink."

I can see how this blanket approach would work if vitaminwater were looking to compete with Poland Spring and Aquafina. We all drink water and on all sorts of occasions. It's a natural next step to push us toward water that's got a little flavor and some vitamins mixed in. Value added!

But I don't think this one-size-fits-all strategy will work if vitaminwater wants to steal share from the big sports drinks. And there's clearly an effort in that direction, as the TV campaign features ads with Ortiz, Urlacher, NBA star Tracy McGrady, and NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne. I've also seen vitaminwater show up in MLB dugouts, which I doubt happens by accident. (Last week, an ESPN camera caught Alex Rodriguez drinking vitaminwater during a Yankees game, which might be viewed as either a coup or a death knell for the brand—depending on how you feel about socially maladjusted adulterers who display poor sportsmanship and always choke when the game's on the line.)

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