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Honest Tea Plans First National Blitz Since Acquisition By Coca-Cola

VP-Marketing Peter Kaye: "We're Really Stepping on the Gas and Significantly Increasing Our Brand Awareness"

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Coca-Cola's acquisition of Honest Tea just over a year ago gave the organic-bottled-tea company a major boost in national distribution. The brand is now focusing on a marketing plan to match.

In the past several months, Honest Tea has hired its first agency of record in New York-based Amalgamated and launched a marketing platform around Earth Day. Now, Ad Age has learned, the brand is planning a national ad campaign that will break later this year.

When Coca-Cola's first invested in Honest Tea in 2008, it had distribution in about 15,000 outlets, but since the completion of the beverage giant's purchase of the brand, it's shot up to more than 100,000. Its portfolio has diversified, too. It has 40 different varieties in glass, plastic and kids' pouches. New flavors include Passion Fruit Green Tea, the brand's first stevia-sweetened zero-calorie beverage, and Raspberry Fields, an exclusive beverage for Whole Foods. Honey Green Tea is the company's best-seller.

Honest Tea controls just 0.5% of the ready-to-drink tea market, but it's among the fastest-growing brands, with volume up 31% in 2011, according to Beverage Digest.

Amid the growth, the company brought on a new top marketer, Peter Kaye. After a stint as a consultant, and earlier in his career working in marketing roles at Time Inc. and spirits giant Diageo, Mr. Kaye took on the post of Honest Tea's VP of marketing and communications in early 2011.

It was his decision to hire the brand's first lead creative agency, New York-based Amalgamated, early this year. Honest Tea had done most of its advertising internally or with the help of agencies on a project basis.

Mr. Kaye informally held talks with a number of shops late last year, and ultimately decided on Amalgamated -- whose head of strategy, Doug Cameron, he's known for years -- for what he says was the right mix of chemistry and work history.

"It really clicked with me that we were ready at a brand development stage to bring on a partner," said Mr. Kaye. "What they've done with Ben & Jerry 's over the years resonated with me. The combination of their capabilities on the strategy side and their cultural branding approach" made Amalgamated an attractive shop, he said.

"We built this brand with a lot of grassroots marketing, events, demos and one-to-one marketing, literally handing out cups over the years," Mr. Kaye said. "The idea with working with Amalgamated is to complement what we've been doing and try and really step on the gas and significantly increase our brand awareness nationally."

Their first project together was the The Great Recycle Facebook status application, which launched this week.

Eric Silver, chief creative officer and part owner at Amalgamated, said a brand campaign would launch across digital, TV and outdoor this summer.

Honest Tea will also complete a package redesign over the next 18 months. "The message is a more integrated expression of the brand to reach more people," said Mr. Kaye.

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