Coca-Cola Launches Glaceau Vitaminwater in China

With Retail Prices Topping $6 in Some Retail Locations, the Brand is More About Status than Hydration

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Coke has developed six flavors of Glaceau Vitaminwater
Coke has developed six flavors of Glaceau Vitaminwater

SHANGHAI ( -- Coca-Cola Corp. is going after Chinese trendsetters with Glaceau Vitaminwater, its most sophisticated -- and expensive -- beverage in the mainland.

Glaceau Vitaminwater, purchased by Coca-Cola from the privately held Energy Brands in 2007, is a cross between a nutrient-laden sports drink and a hip low-calorie lifestyle beverage.

Coca-Cola, which calls Glaceau Vitaminwater an "enhanced-hydration beverage," produces the drink in six flavors: Mega-c (dragonfruit), Vital (orange), Ignite (tropical citrus), Multi-v (lemon), Restore (fruit punch), and Triple-x (blueberry-pomegranate-wolfberry).

Glaceau Vitaminwater events feature stations with games and entertainment
Glaceau Vitaminwater events feature stations with games and entertainment
The Atlanta-based company introduced Glaceau Vitaminwater in China on Nov. 10, with a rainbow-colored party in Shanghai's chic Xintiandi district called "New York, New York" to celebrate the drink's heritage.

Glaceau Vitaminwater was launched in New York in 2000, and is now sold in many of the world's trendiest cities -- Los Angeles, London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo and Seoul.

Glaceau Vitaminwater will also launch in Beijing, but it's unlikely to travel too far into China's less sophisticated markets, mainly due to the retail price. The drink sells for RMB 13-45 ($1.90-$6.60), depending on the flavor and the purchase location.

Even in New York, London or Tokyo, that price is on the high side for a non-alcoholic drink. In China, it is staggering, even to some of the chic creatives who work for Shanghai's top agencies that helped Coke launch the drink this week.

Glaceau Vitaminwater "is for people who are young and doing different things, involved in fashion, for example," said an executive at one agency, who works with Coca-Cola and asked not to be identified, "but it is a little bit high. I was really surprised when I found out how much it cost."

The launch campaign is based on below-the-line marketing, particularly publicity from actors and other celebrities Coke hopes will become regular Glaceau consumers. Pop stars like Wei Chen and Song Xiao Bo kicked off that strategy by attending the Shanghai party.

Coke is scheduling more parties in China with stations for interactive games, multimedia shows and in-vogue accessories to generate more coverage and hype about the brand. In Beijing, events will be held in trendy neighborhoods like Sanlitun and the 798 creative district.

"We're using an influencer strategy. Glaceau Vitaminwater is mostly communicated through social media, both online and through events. It's truly word-of-mouth more than agency-driven," said Giannella Alvarez, Coke's global VP for Glaceau based in Atlanta.

Glaceau Vitaminwater packaging is localized for each market with fun stories
Glaceau Vitaminwater packaging is localized for each market with fun stories
"It definitely is a premium product," Ms. Alvarez added. But Coke thinks there is a market for Glaceau Vitaminwater in China's most affluent cities, where there is a desire for products that offer status on a more affordable level than big-ticket luxury items like designer clothes.

Also, when it comes to food and beverages, local consumers are turning to western brands that are less likely to suffer from issues of quality and safety, particularly after last year's melamine poisoning scandal in China. Health-conscious Chinese are also looking for products that are natural and, don't use artificial sweeteners.

While there is little advertising and the brand's positioning in China is similar to its image in other markets, Coca-Cola did localize the funky packaging the brand is known for in other markets, so the vernacular is relevant to local consumers.

"The brand talks to consumers in the way the way people talk in each culture, and tells stories relevant to each culture. Here, the label has stories that are uniquely Chinese," Ms. Alvarez said.

For example, some of the stories involve well-known local legends and mythical characters known in Chinese history for strength and stamina.

The packaging and other branding materials were developed by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which handles other Coca-Cola brands in China like Minute Maid and Sprite. Two field marketing agencies, Relay and Apax, are helping Coke organize events. Ogilvy & Mather designed channel activity such as uniforms.

Celebrities like Wei Chen (pictured) attended the launch party in Shanghai
Celebrities like Wei Chen (pictured) attended the launch party in Shanghai

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