How Zico is Navigating Shift from Up-and-Comer to National Brand

Three Questions with Beverage Marketer and Ad Age CMO Strategy Summit Speaker Bill Lange

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Bill Lange
Bill Lange

Bill Lange has had a busy year. As VP-marketing for coconut water brand Zico, he's overseen the brand's first national ad campaign from Butler Shine Stern & Partners, as well as watched copious distribution channels come alive since majority stake owner Coca-Cola took the brand national in February.

Mr. Lange learned the bulk of his beverage marketing at Nestle, where he spent 8 years in its beverage division. At Zico, where he's been for three years, Mr. Lange is positioning the brand to gain share of throat in a marketplace crowded by teas, juices, enhanced waters and sports drinks.

"For us, it's always been about the credibility of coconut water as recovery, and restoration has really been our focus," Mr. Lange said. "But you can't just be boring and about sports all the time, because we know the people that are exercising are also going to concerts, going out at night, and doing other things in their lives. So, we need to fit into those occasions as well."

Mr. Lange will discuss the work Zico has done to appeal to a broader set of consumers at Ad Age's CMO Strategy Summit October 16 in San Francisco.

Zico's latest campaign
Zico's latest campaign

Ad Age: The campaign from BSSP runs with the tagline "Put a little oomph in it" and is intended to bring some personality to Zico. What were other goals of the campaign?

Mr. Lange: For us, from day one, it has been about serious athletes. We started in the yoga community, especially the Bikram yoga community -- which is not for the faint of heart. These hardcore athletes were influencing other people who wanted to be healthy but not necessarily as athletic or competitive. So with that group, you need to talk about fitness, you need to prove that the product can perform, but you also need to make it accessible so that it doesn't feel like it's only for elite athletes.

And we thought that inserting a little bit of personality both into the look and the language that we used was really important to make sure that what we call the "try athletes," those that are just trying to be healthy and make good decisions, make sure that the product felt accessible and a good fit for them as well.

Ad Age: Since Coca-Cola purchased a majority stake in Zico last year, how has distribution and awareness of the brand changed?

Mr. Lange: Before they became involved, we were running through independent distributors, and we weren't everywhere. The brand launched in New York. And then we had a presence in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles, and we tacked on a little bit in Texas and the Pacific Northwest as we kept building.

Now, with Coke, you've got, in theory, the ability to be anywhere you want to be. Our distribution has grown significantly, especially in channels that we weren't touching as well before, like drug, convenience and retail. Now the challenge is, they have a lot of brands, so really, it's incumbent on us to get their organization as excited about Zico and the potential of the coconut water category as we can, so that they think of us top-of-mind, not just the brands that they've historically known and carried in that system.

Ad Age: What are some of the challenges of marketing Zico?

Mr. Lange: Most of it is educating consumers. What the heck is coconut water? It doesn't fit neatly into sports drinks or teas or enhanced waters. There's really a lot of education around it, and a lot of that education comes from a consumer simply experiencing what the benefits are. And the other thing is, because it's a natural product and we're not adding much to it, it tastes like it does coming out of the coconut. Which means it's not as good a tasting product as a Vitaminwater or something that the sweet tooth might be used to.

The second thing is it's a rapidly growing category. We're now in a huge distribution network, so there's the tug-of-war between needing and wanting to be mainstream versus wanting to maintain some of the entrepreneurial roots we had when we launched the company. How do you evolve your marketing and not forget about that high-touch, grassroots level that got us to where we are today but also start to step into a more mass, mainstream type of tactic.

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