Evian tries out nontraditional immersion

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Evian is devoting half its communication efforts to nontraditional marketing in a bid to regain its premium-water lead-and its goal is to make a bigger splash with fewer events.

"We know that to build Evian back to icon status we're not going to get there with traditional advertising," said Eric Leventhal, president-general manager of Evian North America, noting the French brand is being outspent two to three times by domestic waters.

Once the chic beverage of choice for starlets and powerbrokers, Evian's volume fell 8% in 2004 at a time when the entire $11 billion bottled-water category swelled 18.8%, according to Beverage Digest. Though it's still the largest bottled-water brand in the world by volume, Evian, owned by Group Danone, has seen inexpensive locally bottled waters and upstart luxury brands like Roll International's Fiji (which jumped 29.7% last year) and Voss USA's Voss wash away its share at retail and in white-tablecloth restaurants.

CHALLENGE

"Our challenge today is to explain to consumers why Evian is more expensive," said Mr. Leventhal.

To do so, Evian is revamping its nontraditional approach with heavy public relations via boutique 5W Public Relations, New York. The marketer is also close to inking a deal with a pop artist to create an "Evian specific" piece of artwork, said Mr. Leventhal, declining to give further details.

It has asked Havas' Euro RSCG, New York, to restaff half its team with people experienced and dedicated to nontraditional marketing. Euro helps make up a steering committee along 5WPR and longtime product placement shop UPP Marketing, Los Angeles.

In the past, Evian sponsored up to 130 events per year and while the brand's presence was well-executed at the events, there often was little buzz afterward. Mr. Leventhal's goal is to wring more out of them. "Quantity doesn't mean anything. We'll have as few as we can legitimately do and make them much bigger with much bigger investments against each one."

Evian has already dived in with a February stunt putting tennis star Serena Williams into the "the world's most expensive bath" drawn with 1,000 liters of Evian as part of it's sponsorship of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Her pricey dip garnered ink in newswires, the National Enquirer and People.

Mr. Leventhal wouldn't specify how much would be spent on nontraditional marketing. The marketer spent $10 million last year, though that's likely to decline in 2005.

"Evian took their brand franchise for granted," said Rick Murray, general manager of Edelman Diversified Services and a former Pepsi executive, who said that building buzz will help regenerate Evian's talk value but that the product ultimately has to prove itself. Added Beverage Testing Institute Director Jerald O'Kennard: "It takes what's inside that bottle to bring the consumer back."

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