Keeping Up With The Jones

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It came as a bit of a surprise recently when the soda pop pride of the Pacific Northwest, Jones Soda, a brand known for its homegrown, grassroots creative marketing, announced it had named its first ad agency after more than a decade of going it alone. True to its roots, Jones went local with its estimated $10 million account by choosing Seattle's Cole & Weber United. The agency has been charged with expanding the specialty soda company's profile to better reflect its national distribution.

Agency president Mike Doherty says he's well aware of the existing army of Jones afficianados and looks forward to expanding on what Jones itself has built.

Peter van Stolk
Peter van Stolk
The creative brand identity of Jones starts with founder and CEO Peter van Stolk. From the very beginning, whether it was distribution in unconventional places like snowboard shops and tattoo parlors to including the consumer in the brand's imaging before user-generated was ever uttered as an adman's catchphrase, van Stolk has fostered and grown the Jones image to embody its tagline, "Run with the little guy." We spoke to van Stolk about his decision to bring an ad agency into the fold, how he thinks this might affect the brand's coveted "little guy" status and more.

In what ways did you feel that hiring an agency would help extend the brand further than its been able to do on its own up to now?
Well, obviously as we get into a bigger playing field, there are skills and a knowledge base that we don't have so we had to go find and hire that. We have a goal and a vision to be the premium soft drink in the category and really, we think that Cole & Weber, who's based right up the street from us, has the creative and experience to assist us in our national roll-out.

Jones Soda
Jones Soda
You've nurtured the Jones consumer base carefully over the years, building up quite the grassroots following. How big a concern was it that taking the marketing and advertising to the proverbial next level might alienate some of your existing fans?
It's a big concern, actually. How do you go big while still feeling small and caring? That's the challenge that we're throwing in (Cole & Weber's) lap and that's the challenge for them to show us how to do it. We have some strong differences with other products, like how we use cane sugar while they use high fructose corn syrup. So it's going to be really interesting to see how (Cole & Weber) roll it out.

Do you foresee an adjustment period with bringing in a creative partner after all this time doing it yourselves?
We've got a lot of things going on here and it's great to have someone who's only focus is to execute one thing. As with any CEO, I've got a hundred different things going on at any time in the day so it's nice to have a partner whose focus is on just one important thing.

Jones Soda
Jones Soda
How do you see things developing creatively going forward?
The brand Jones means something to people and if we can expand the brand properly and within the category, while having fun doing it, that's what we want to do. We told Cole & Weber, we're a treat. Soda should be viewed as a treat. It's an indulgence and people shouldn't be drinking five sodas a day. Nor should they be eating five Mars bars a day or probably drinking five Stellas a day. Some companies convince themselves that people need their products. No one needs a Jones, let's be honest. People want it because it tastes good and its an indulgence. Don't make it anything it's not.
So we clearly understand what our goal is as an indulgent treat. But we also think if you're going to treat yourself to a soda it should have sugar in it and should taste good. It should be, OK I had a soda today, that's cool, but I'm not drinking 20. And Cole & Weber got that.
We want to be open and honest. Jones isn't about trying. People either like us or they hate us and that's fine because that's who we are. I think it's imperative that we maintain the integrity and the history of our roots.
We're always going to be the little company. We're never going to be Coke or Pepsi. It's always about running with the little guy and we've always believed that and shared the values of having a great product, be consistent in your quality but unpredictable in your marketing. Never let them know what you're doing and try to make consumer connections in a positive and fun way.
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