Alternative Beverage Battle: Coke/Nestle venture tests Mad River ads

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coca-cola co. and Nestle are testing an ad campaign for Mad River teas and juices in hopes the minuscule brand can play in the herb-enhanced-beverage arena alongside powerhouses such as PepsiCo's SoBe, Cadbury-Schweppes' Snapple, Pepsi Lipton Tea Partnership's Lipton and Mad River sibling Nestea.

The Nestle/Coca-Cola Co. joint venture breaks the Mad River spots just as SoBe Beverages, the leading herb- and vitamin-infused tea and juice drink line now owned by PepsiCo, begins airing its first TV campaign. Mad River's "Nature's a mother. Drink to it" tag urges people to drink up for taste, rather than benefits from herbal additives such as ginseng, guarana, echinacea and gingko biloba. Irreverent spots show young men in difficult situations, such as one in a blizzard with frostbitten feet and another facing down a bear in the woods. A voice-over reminiscent of 1950's instructional films advises them to enjoy their beverages because they're in trouble. "Just about everyone has tried to market nature in a glossy, ethereal, unrealistic way," said Gary Goldsmith, chairman-chief creative officer, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe. The New York office handles the Mad River effort. "We wanted to do something in a more honest and irreverent way that young consumers could connect with."

Ads began running May 27 in Hartford, Conn., and Salt Lake City and will launch this month in Atlanta. Wild postings in Boston will accompany the effort along with radio spots, already in about 30% of the country. The company is expected to spend $1 million to $4 million on Mad River, which received no measured media last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

The work comes as Coca-Cola tries to get its fizzy beverages bubbling again. Coca-Cola Classic and Sprite last year both lost share.

When Coca-Cola bought Mad River last May, the brand sold roughly 1 million cases, compared with the tea category's 424 million cases.

Mad River targets 18- to 24-year-old men and women, while Coca-Cola's Nestea focuses on baby boomers, said Caren Pasquale, business manager at Beverage Partners Worldwide. Nestea is the country's No. 2 ready-to-drink tea with 26% share, preceded by Lipton at 34% share, according to Beverage Digest. Cadbury-Schweppes and Arizona Beverage Co. follow with 18% and 15%, respectively.

Ms. Pasquale said enhanced teas and juices are growing well and that Coke's contribution could juice up the category.

"It's a healthy opportunity for us and our portfolio," she said. "There is huge upside for tea. It's good for you, and ... consumers are beginning to really understand the healthy benefits."

contributing: lisa sanders

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