Why Aquafina Looks Beyond Feel-Good Family Fare

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The deal: Pepsi-Cola’s bottled water brand Aquafina is upping its efforts in Hollywood, seeking out prime placements in movies and TV shows, as well as event sponsorships.

The result: The increased exposure has given Aquafina an edge over rivals like Dasani in the highly competitive bottled water market.

In the highly competitive bottled water industry, Aquafina has long dominated as the top-selling brand. But that’s not enough for the Pepsi-Cola-owned brand.
Aquafina is searching for its next big entertainment project.

Aquafina also wants to be an A-list brand in Hollywood, joining the ranks of celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts -- maybe even Paris Hilton -- when it comes to exposure.

So far its efforts have worked.

Movies and TV shows

Through Los Angeles-based product placement firm Davie-Brown Entertainment, Aquafina has spent the past five years placing its blue-label bottles on the sets of movies and TV shows. But in an effort to hang onto its title as the top water brand among consumers, it’s recently increased its efforts in Hollywood through some high-profile opportunities as a way to differentiate its brand from its rivals.

Aquafina recently served as the water of choice in CBS’ family edition of the hit reality show “The Amazing Race.” It was also a major sponsor of an episode of E!’s “Fight for Fame,” and had a prime placement in the ABC drama “Commander in Chief.”

On the big screen, futuristic versions of Aquafina packaging appeared in the summer actioner “The Island,” while traditional bottles were prominently featured in the film “Broken Flowers.” Last year, they showed up in “National Treasure,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Collateral,” and blockbusters like “Minority Report” before that.

“The water category is growing extremely fast,” said Michael Hammer, senior brand manager in charge of Aquafina at Pepsi-Cola North America. “We’re No. 1 in the category and we want to remind people that we’re No. 1 in the category.”

Seeking the edge

Whereas other brands have traditionally shied away from films that don’t have a G or PG rating, Aquafina is looking for films that might strike a cord with audiences across the board.

“When we’re evaluating a movie, we want to see how far on the edge it goes,” Mr. Hammer said. “We’re not just looking for family or feel-good movies. We want to make sure we have credibility and that sophisticated audiences see us in a credible light.”

The company is also looking for “something that will be memorable or engaging for the audience,” Mr. Hammer added.

That something has includes such scenes as a pivotal point in “National Treasure” where the lead character, played by Nicolas Cage, uses an Aquafina bottle as a magnifying tool to decipher a code on the back of a $100 bill.

“That was one of those perfect storms,” Mr. Hammer said. “The character needed some type of a magnifying element. That was our way in to insert the product. The product had to be used to decode the entire mystery.”

Perfect storm

In “Commander in Chief,” the show’s president and speaker of the House travel to Florida to visit the victims of a hurricane that blew through the state. In the background are cases of Aquafina. The timing of the episode followed the real storms that were hitting Florida. “The story line was relevant to what was going on at the time,” Mr. Hammer said.

And in “The Island,” futuristic packaging of Aquafina’s bottles were developed for several scenes as a way to make sure that the product was relevant to the theme and period of the film. The placement wasn’t meant to tell consumers what the product will look like in the future, but as a way to tell consumers that “we intend to be around in the future,” Mr. Hammer said.

Most of Aquafina’s appearances come in the form of a traditional product-placement deal that Davie-Brown brokers with a production. Aquafina does not typically do promotions around a film; it has yet to find the right project, the marketer said. Although it can be tough to control a product placement, “we certainly request as much screen time as possible,” Mr. Hammer said.

Of course, Aquafina’s placement in movies and TV shows can’t solely be credited for the brand’s strong sales over the years -- if at all. But the exposure couldn’t have hurt.

$9.2 billion bottled water market

In 2004, the bottled water market in the U.S. generated a record $9.2 billion in sales, with Aquafina controlling 11.3% of overall market share, and becoming the industry’s first billion-dollar water brand. Coca-Cola’s Dasani controlled 10%, as the second most popular bottled water brand. Altogether, Aquafina and Dasani made $1.9 billion last year.

Mr. Hammer said that it is still too difficult to place a value on the results of Aquafina’s placements, but the company tracks how well a movie may have performed at the box office or how well a TV show did in the ratings. “We track how many eyeballs we reached,” Mr. Hammer said. It also studies key performance indicators on a quarterly basis, which involve tracking how the brand measures among consumers.

Either way, entertainment is an area in which Aquafina plans to remain active.

“It’s a little hard for us to tease out the numbers,” Mr. Hammer said. “But we feel we’re getting a good investment from the reach standpoint. It’s an area that we intend to continue pursuing.”

Event sponsorship

Its efforts have recently expanded beyond solely product placement to also include sponsoring events such as the Sundance, Chicago, Tribeca and AFI film festivals as a way to build a presence in the independent film category, Mr. Hammer said. Davie-Brown has also launched a program to get bottles of Aquafina into the hands of celebrities.

The overall strategy is to put Aquafina in places where consumers are enjoying entertainment, said Tom Meyer, president of Davie-Brown Entertainment.

Aquafina has yet to dictate just how many placements it wants per year. But its efforts “have increased substantially in the past year,” Mr. Meyer said. “We don’t have a target number of hits that we’re trying to attain. We’re just being very aggressive at making Aquafina ubiquitous in the minds of consumers who like entertainment.”
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