Vitamin Water banks on 50 as its Formula for success

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Seeing rapper 50 cent drinking Glaceau Vitamin Water in a Reebok ad for G Unit sneakers gave the water's owner, Energy Brands, a great idea: Why not tap the fitness-freak hip-hopper as an ambassador for the growing beverage brand?

So Energy Brands is launching a new Formula 50 variety, a grape flavor that contains 50% of the recommended daily vitamins, with the help of 50 Cent and his G Unit street teams. "We've seen that when 50 Cent incorporates [Vitamin Water] into his daily routine, especially when talking with [media outlets] BET, "TRL" or Hot 97, the brand gets on the airwaves and we create a lot of trial," said Rohan Oza, senior VP-marketing for Energy Brands.

Initially in 10 top markets and expanding quickly to 32 markets, Formula 50 will be touted via guerrilla street sampling efforts from Vitamin Water tasting vehicles (with screens that double as a "TV network," GVWTV). It will also be hyped by G Unit teams that work closely with radio stations to tout 50 Cent's music, his Reebok deal and now, Vitamin Water.

The 50 Cent relationship expands on a longtime strategy to "home deliver" the vitamin-enhanced line to celebrities from Sean "Puffy" Combs to Tom Cruise, which has helped put Vitamin Water on the map beside deep-pocketed competitors including PepsiCo's Gatorade offshoot, Propel.

At the recent MTV Music Awards, Usher, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton were all pictured drinking Vitamin Water and singing its praises, unpaid endorsements that have been driven by a strategy to "build great relationships with people in the limelight," Mr. Oza said.

Getting the word out to news outlets has been especially crucial for building Vitamin Water revenue, up 250% on a compound annual basis over the last four years, Mr. Oza said. After all, Energy Brands only recently launched its first marketing campaign, an integrated effort that plays off its irreverent underdog approach.

The campaign, developed with the help of Rocket Dog, New York, depicts off-the-wall benefits that can be gained by imbibing Vitamin Water varieties such as Revive, Energy and the like, among them giving an elderly man the strength to make a move on his nurse.

Now, Mr. Oza said, "we have an opportunity with 50 to take [our celebrity push] to the next level." Initially, he said, the relationship will be built "organically" by making Vitamin Water a visible part of the rapper's no-booze, fitness-filled lifestyle.

small segment

Although the enhanced water segment is still small, Beverage Digest editor and publisher John Sicher credits Energy Brands' ability to establish and build a new brand, especially against Pepsi's Propel. "They've done a great job doing something distinctive that resonates with consumers, especially in their core Northeast and California markets," he said. According to Beverage Digest research, Vitamin Water's volume grew 36% to 12 million cases last year versus Propel's 35 million cases. The success of both brands will likely mean more competition in the segment in the future, he said. Kraft Foods is certainly angling to get in on the category with its recent acquisition of Veryfine's Fruit2O brand, which it plans to market heavily next year.

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