Nearly a year and a half after first rolling out on shelves to compete with La Croix and PepsiCo’s Bubly, Coca-Cola-owned sparkling water label Aha is finally debuting its first major ad campaign.
The new all-encompassing “Can I Get an Aha” campaign, courtesy of Austin creative agency Preacher, is anchored by ads featuring “Superstore” star Colton Dunn and comedian Lauren Lapkus of “Orange Is the New Black” fame, both of whom banter with an intensely brand-infused vocabulary—or should we say, voc-Aha-bulary?
“It was a very funny experience trying to nail all those words,” says Lapkus, whose character in the ads seamlessly delivers tricky word after word as the operator of a taco truck, a hungry and indecisive customer and a real-life actor trapped by contractual Aha-bligations to use the “Aha language.”
“I’m really happy about it. It turned out really fun,” Lapkus says of the campaign, crediting Tool of North America director Paul Briganti—a filmmaker who’s done everything from “Saturday Night Live” sketches to Hotels.com ads featuring Captain Obvious—with allowing her and co-star Dunn to put their comedic backgrounds to good use.
“It really is a testament to the people who edited those pieces” and sifted through footage to find the needle-in-a-haystack take, adds Dunn, who jokes about dreading the day fans will approach him with their flawless Aha-speak when it took him so many practice runs to master.
“You get opportunities to work with companies all the time, but with this brand, it is really just about fun and excitement. That is sort of what Aha’s vibe is,” Dunn says. “It’s something that I wanted to be a part of, which is not always the case in this business.”
While the lighthearted new advertising push is not Aha’s first foray into marketing, with billboards and digital ads sporadically stumping for the brand since its launch in November 2019, “Can I Get an Aha” does hold the distinction of being its inaugural 360º campaign.
“This is our first-ever mass marketing campaign with a significant level of investment. ‘Can I get an Aha’ plays on the brand’s ethos of enlivening everyday moments, which was purposeful,” says Ulises Ramirez, group director, hydration category of Coca-Cola’s North America Operating Unit.
“This sense of liveliness, alongside the unique flavor pairings, inspired the bright and bold tones of the brand’s visual identity. There are subtle elements of our logo, for example, that are fun for consumers to find—the hidden exclamation point in the ‘H’ of Aha reveals not only the high energy of the brand, but gives consumers a sense of discovery,” he says.
Social, audio, out-of-home and 15- and 30-second spots on TV and ad-supported streaming are all a part of the brand’s new ad drive, each of which plays on the use of “Aha” in various words. For regional media buys, think branding alluding to Chic-Aha-go or Aha-tlanta; more general placements use everything from the drink’s flavors (“lime & w-Aha-termelon”) to its characteristics (“two flavors in every c-Aha-n”).
While Coca-Cola “temporarily paused marketing efforts” in 2020 across its entire portfolio to “ensure the financial stability of our business,” Ramirez says, it’s unclear why Aha is nearly 18 months late to the advertising party—especially as the colorful competitor it’s wrestling for market share, PepsiCo-owned Bubly, has spent years throwing media dollars at Super Bowl ads and Michael Bublé cameos.
(A few months after its initial launch, a Washington Post perspective story on Aha mused that the brand was “likely to get a big marketing push” imminently, perhaps with a celebrity endorser—though such a campaign had not come to fruition until now.)
Timeliness has been a part of Aha’s brand story since its debut, when it caught flack from some observers who questioned Coca-Cola’s late entry into the booming flavored seltzer market. Bubly was introduced in early 2018 and La Croix in the 1980s, although the latter’s popularity did not explode until recently.
On the upswing
But despite being faced with an increasingly crowded seltzer category, coupled with a wide roll-out just months before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Aha has posted healthy early performances and closed out its first full year on shelves with an 8.3% share of the unsweetened flavored sparkling water market, according to Nielsen data.
The brand’s sales have been on the upswing in recent months, too, with Aha achieving a 57% boost in sales in March 2021 compared to the year-ago period.
Ahead of its campaign launch today, the sparkling water brand also debuted two new flavors, raspberry + acai and mango + black tea, in March to enlarge its repertoire of mashup products that already included blueberry + pomegranate, lime + watermelon, and more. However, Ramirez confirms that only the latter flavor, which is caffeinated, will be featured in the “Can I Get an Aha” push.
“We absolutely see caffeine as a rising trend in the category, as well as functionality in sparkling water in general,” says Ramirez, noting that Coca-Cola undertook “extensive” market research before the news flavors’ debut to learn what consumers wanted to see in the flavored seltzer category.
The primary campaign assets featuring Lapkus and Dunn are slated to run through the summer, with additional creative on audio and out-of-home platforms remaining in rotation until October.