Jolt Wakes Up to Keyed-Up Category

Sector's Sales Jumped Almost 50% Last Year, and the Original Energy Drink Wants a Taste of the Revenue

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CHICAGO ( -- Remember Jolt? It was the original energy drink.

Created in 1985 by C.J. Rapp, now CEO of Wet Planet Beverages, the brand was touted as the soft drink
Now 22 years in the market, Jolt is looking to regain the cultural cache it once held.
Now 22 years in the market, Jolt is looking to regain the cultural cache it once held.
"with all the sugar and twice the caffeine" and was proud to be unhealthful. But it's since been asleep at the marketing wheel. The clever positioning that catapulted Jolt cola into the hands of nascent hackers, computer programmers, gamers and party people 20 years ago has faded even as energy drinks explode in popularity.

"We were the first to recognize that at the time the contemporary lifestyles were far more demanding than any generation prior, and the by-product was less sleep," Mr. Rapp said. "Therefore, we felt there was a genuine need for a stimulating beverage."

Within five years, Jolt had moved away from the cola wars to "position itself for longevity" as the high-octane beverage, a position it has quietly held ever since.

An old hand
Now, at the mature age of 22, Jolt wants to compete at the highest levels of the energy-drink category. With the sector growth of 49% in 2006, according to a Beverage Digest report, and the energy-drink category holding an 0.8% share of the beverage market, Mr. Rapp thinks the time is right. "All boats go up with the rising tide," he said. "There's no doubt that we are encouraged by the growing and thriving of energy drinks as a whole."

With Connecticut advertising agency Colangelo by its side, Jolt is looking to play up its brand equity and overcome some misperceptions.

As a brand that lent authenticity to computer-nerd characters in '80s and '90s movies such as "Jurassic Park," "Hackers" and "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (long before paid product placement was even a consideration), Jolt does have an older fan base with which to reacquaint itself, although its target audience is people between 16 and 30.

Source: Beverage Business Insights

"We are fortunate the name has tremendous equity," Mr. Rapp said. "It's surprising even to me how many people have a Jolt story." He said he is also hoping to bank on a brand personality that is more playful and devilish, as opposed to what he perceives as the aggression of some of Jolt's competitors.

The real void Mr. Rapp said Jolt is filling in the energy-drink category is one of taste, with flavors such as "blue," "ultra" and cherry in addition to the original cola. The drink has at least as much caffeine as its competitors: A 16-ounce battery can of Jolt has the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee or two Mountain Dews.

Buzzing with anticipation
The privately held company does not break out sales figures, but with a distribution deal with Cadbury and Walgreens and a marketing campaign launching this summer, Mr. Rapp hopes Jolt's popularity and sales will hit new heights. He's putting seven-figure media spending into print, outdoor, digital, trade and distributor marketing to make sure that happens. The spending puts Jolt at the level of competitors such as Amp, Monster and Vault but still well behind category leader Red Bull, which spent $40 million on measured media in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights, said it isn't unreasonable for Jolt to hope to move to a higher level in the energy-drink category. "Maybe it won't quite get to the magnitude of a Red Bull or Monster or Rock Star, but it can still break out of that 0.5% share that is inhabited by a couple of dozen other brands," he said. "Their heritage is a help. It's paradoxical that if you undermarket your brand over the years, that actually can help when you are trying to reinvent yourself."
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