Just How Important is Brand?

By Steve Cox | Group Creative Director

Bubly is going to show us.

It’s been forever since there was a new, big brand hitting the scene. At least it seems like it to me. But that changed when Bubly came out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago. My first exposure was a TV commercial that stopped me mid-DVR fast forward – a pretty good feat in itself. The spot was colorful, musical and very well produced. Of course, my thought being equal parts cynical marketing person and cynical consumer was:  I wonder who’s behind it? Coke or Pepsi?

Short answer is Pepsi. And the move itself is smart since soda sales have been declining while the flavored water market takes off. If you guzzle these waters like we do around our office, you probably know La Croix, the category leader with around a third of the market share. But there are dozens of other players out there from Perrier to every grocery chain’s house brand. I’ve had a bunch of the different brands over the past couple of years, including a Bubly, and shocker, no one is going to win a blind taste test. Flavored water is a commodity product and it’s been more or less treated like one.

That, of course, is where brand comes in. Brand is all that differentiates these products (excluding price, which the store brands will always win). I like the branding of Bubly. It’s very engaging, modern and simple. The personality of the brand certainly fits its name, with cans and tabs featuring some friendly copy. It’s fun. LaCroix, on the other hand, feels dated, and not in a good retro way. In fact, the first time I encountered LaCroix, I thought it was a house brand.

It’s not going to help LaCroix that PepsiCo is going all in. Besides the high-dollar television commercials, they had Neil Patrick Harris drop by The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about this great new water he discovered, then she had him run to Target to buy some. Aside from the fact I found it uncomfortably hokey and that it was an unintentional parody of his pitchman from Heineken, he seems the right personality fit for these drinks. Of course, Pepsi has a long history of loving its celebrity endorsements and with so many professing they hate to be advertised to, it all makes sense. But honestly, does anybody believe he just stopped by to talk about water? Sadly, probably yes.

Back to the brand, Bubly leans heavily on cute and color, and leaning on color is hardly anything new. But overall, I find it a well-produced, well- though out campaign. The Bubly website, nicely produced and as lively as everything else. Facebook and Instagram are tied in and the colors are striking in those mediums (the most-important measure of likes is low, however). Also, I found that when you search LaCroix, paid ads and organic produce hits for Bubly. Some crafty SEO and SEM there.

Don’t feel too bad for LaCroix, however. As part of National Beverage Company, they’re not a mom and pop operation. They’ve embraced an aggressive retail strategy and seem to have ignored any mass market advertising. Whether by plan or by lack of need, we’ll soon know. And it will be interesting to see what happens.

Will people stick with LaCroix, who already has a strong social following? Will the market leader hold its position simply because it is the market leader? How much will PepsiCo spend to claim that spot? Will LaCroix change its strategy? Will consumers look at Bubly and see themselves in this brand and make a switch? Will others be attracted to the new brand, but reject BIG SODA? Will some even realize it’s part of Pepsi or care? Or will they simply buy what’s on sale? Personally, I think we’ll be seeing Bubly carve into that leadership because Bubly stands for something. Bubly = fun. LaCroix? I have no idea what they stand for, but they might have to figure it out. (Oh, and there’s always Tickle Water – it’s not just for kids.)