Cie Nicholson

By Published on .

Big idea: Branded water

How it came to her: Conversations with consumers

How it's changing her business: Making noncarbonated beverages one of the company's greatest strengths

Spend some time in the crowded bottled-water section of any supermarket today, and it's easy to forget that there was ever a time when one brand seemed pretty much like another. There was.

Then came Aquafina's "Drink more water" campaign, which Cie Nicholson, senior VP-chief marketing officer of Pepsi-Cola North America, considers the biggest idea in a career full of big ideas. In 2004 Ms. Nicholson was VP-noncarbonated beverages, charged with overseeing brands such as SoBe, Aquafina and Tropicana. Pepsi introduced its bottled water in 1993, but in the ensuing decade water brands had done little to differentiate themselves from one another. "Many people didn't believe you could brand water. We decided we could," Ms. Nicholson says.

The "Drink more water" campaign the Pepsi team developed with BBDO, New York, proved those naysayers wrong, went on to win an Effie award and became one of the favorite campaigns at Pepsi-no small feat when you consider the muscle behind some of the company's other brands.

Now in its third year, the campaign is as simple and persuasive as its tagline. But a lot of hard work went into building an identity for the brand without forcing it. Ms. Nicholson employed her belief in listening closely to the consumer; besides organizing mini-group interviews, the Aquafina group conducted 27 interviews at consumers' homes in four cities to understand their interactions with water. Two facts emerged: No matter how much water people drink, they think they should be drinking more and believe that water can cure all ills. (Tired? Drink water. Not tired enough? Drink water!) So a campaign was born.
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