Lost in Translation: vitaminwater Canadian Promotion Goes Awry

vitaminwater's promotion blunder. Image courtesy of Metro through adweek.com
vitaminwater’s promotion blunder. Image courtesy of Metro through adweek.com

Over the last few weeks, glaceau vitaminwater have come under scrutiny for its under-the-cap promotion that spelled out the words “YOU RETARD” (story link here).  As a bilingual Canada nation that calls English and French as its national languages, certain words may not translate so well.  vitaminwater’s promotional intent was to put one English and one French word under the cap, with the consumer collecting the caps to make funny sentences.  Apparently the problem was that the English list of words and the French list of words were separately approved and no one thought of what the consequences should both words were combined.  These consequences were amplified given that the family finding these words were a special needs family.  Doug Loates (the dad) sent Coca-Cola a letter immediately letting them know of his displeasure toward their campaign and how hurtful it was to his family.  As you see from the letter (below), he has signed it as “an ex-Coke drinker” which likely means that they have lost a customer for life.

As the glaceau business unit goes into public relations defense, what can be learnt in this situation?  The obvious lesson is to develop stronger approval systems when running a bilingual campaign in Canada (as in any other nation with more than one national language). Ensuring that the correct message is not lost in translation is critical and avoids the company any negative PR and embarrassment.  If there was a business team that handles the French marketing and another team that handles English marketing, then these two teams must collaborate more closely to ensure each party is dialed in to what the other team is doing.  Ultimately the national campaign is approved by someone that manages both teams, so that executive should also be aware of the consequences.

Aside from focusing on the directly results of this campaign, one has to wonder why vitaminwater ran this type of a campaign in the first place.  If the intent was to stimulate sales by having beverage enthusiasts collect the caps to create words, is there a prize for the funniest word?  Or was it simply a game for instant gratification by combining words together?  I have not noticed any type of media promotion to build awareness or excitement for this campaign in either case.  vitaminwater may have fared better had they simply piggybacked off of Coca-Cola’s iCoke.ca loyalty program.  After all, with an existing infrastructure where consumers are already knowledgeable of the reward system, this would make it easier to achieve the campaign’s objectives.

The next time vitaminwater runs a marketing campaign that spans the nation, we’ll see whether they have truly learned their lesson.  Will it be regional promotions with stricter guidelines for English- and French-speaking provinces?  Or will it be the same problem?

Coke Letter by Doug Loates
Doug Loates’ letter to Coca-Cola on finding the vitaminwater bottle cap

Nestea Enters Crowded Liquid Enhancers Space

Nestea's Liquid Water Enhancer - image courtesy of bevnet.com
Nestea’s Liquid Water Enhancer – image courtesy of bevnet.com

It seems that Nestea is primed to enter the liquid enhancers space soon (link here).  In a segment that grows increasingly crowded with strong brand names like Kraft MiO, Crystal Light Liquid, Dasani Drops, Powerade Zero Drops, is this the right decision by Nestea to enter with their own liquid enhancer?  Aside from the well-known branded players, a host of grocery retailers already have their own store brand (per this BevReview article, Walmart, Supervalu and Winn-Dixie all have their own versions).  Can this beverage segment sustain another branded player?  With various offerings available and finite space in the grocery aisle, will this launch actually be beneficial?  It depends on who you talk to.

First, let’s take a look at what Nestea is introducing to the marketplace.  Nestea Liquid Water Enhancer will arrive exclusively to Target in three flavors:  Iced Tea with Lemon, Iced Tea with Peach and Half & Half Iced Tea.  Another flavor will hit the rest of the market afterwards: Green Tea Citrus.  The Nestea Liquid Water Enhancers will be available in 26-serving bottles.  Because there is no other tea-based liquid enhancer in the marketplace, the Nestea product is unique and certainly adds value to the grocery aisle.  The consumer will now be able to find their Nestea drink mixes in both powder and liquid formats.  So Nestea benefits from this product launch, giving themselves a broader consumer reach.  Now that Nestea has a unique product, they just need to go and “sell” it to the grocery retailer that their product is beneficial for them too.

Retailers, however, may interpret this as more of a headache than anything.  With liquid enhancers expanding so rapidly, it looks like manufacturers just want to launch a product and get in on the gold rush.  With another product added to the overall consideration set, the retailers must decide which ones to carry and help them grow their business.  Do they maintain the same space in the grocery aisle for these products?  Or should they rationalize some other products?  The retailer may simply pass the problem on to manufacturers, and have them create the most compelling sell story to gain retailer distribution.  What may ensue should certainly benefit consumers and retailers: manufacturers will undoubtedly be offering some form of pricing and promotional support to get them to take their product in-store.

Coca-Cola's Powerade Zero Drops - image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com
Coca-Cola’s Powerade Zero Drops – image courtesy of coca-colacompany.com

For liquid enhancers and the consumer, Nestea’s entry is a positive addition.  Nestea’s entry carves out a niche for tea-based liquid enhancers, similar to how Powerade Zero Drops and MiO Fit created the sports niche.  Despite further fragmenting liquid enhancers into more beverage segments, this launch will be beneficial to the category.  As more marketing dollars get behind liquid enhancers, this may spell opportunity for even more product launches.  If consumers are willing to mix water with enhancers for caffeine, electrolytes, and tea, what else may they be interested in?  How about juices?  Or carbonated soda?  In due time, consumers may be able to find liquid enhancers for any beverage that is currently available in can or bottle format.

While the Nestea launch further crowds the liquid enhancer market, it still benefits everyone.  Consumers get another liquid enhancer choice.  Nestea improve their consumer reach.  And retailers linking these two groups together will be rewarded with more profits.

Newest Japanese Soft Drink: Hot Ginger Ale

Canada Dry Japan's Hot Gingerale - via huffpost.com
Canada Dry Japan’s Hot Gingerale – via huffpost.com

Japan has always had some interesting innovations with their beverages, ranging from soda flavors such as cucumber, green tea, and Cheetos.  At the root of it all, these quirky flavors (to Westerners) are an indication of how different a Japanese consumer’s taste preferences are.  The latest innovation in Japan’s carbonated soft drink category?  Hot Ginger Ale from Coca-Cola’s Canada Dry.  As this new product is gearing up for introduction in late October, many questions are left unanswered.  How is this can heated up?  Will soda manufacturers in Japan develop other heated soda beverages?  Will it make its way over to America?

While hot drinks are normally found in Japan, hot carbonated drinks are quite different.  Carbonation is typically lost when a soda is heated up, but Coca-Cola has managed to maintain the beverage’s carbonation despite it being heated up.  After four years of research & testing, their technology allows for the beverage to maintain carbonated when heated up without burning the hand.  The Gizmag has a feature piece on Hot Can, one of the companies that has developed self-heating can technology (article link here).  The can is multi-layered becomes heat-activated with the press of a button, some shaking, and about 20-30 seconds of wait time.  The can’s layers separate the beverage from the heat activation layer, and will add a predetermined amount of heat upon activation.  Therefore storage at room temperature is best – fridge-storage means the heating the beverage up won’t really make it that hot, while storing it in a already hot place will burn the hand.  The can has a heat indicator to safeguard against burning the hand.

Given that Japanese drinks have explored many new frontiers on taste, packaging, and now temperature, it likely won’t be the last area where they try launching new products in.  Apparently, Coca-Cola has already introduced self-heating coffees in Japan.  This goes to show that other heated drinks may not be entirely uncommon.  Should this Hot Ginger Ale product become successful, there is no limit to what other soft drinks will be introduced targeted for heated consumption.  Kirin Japan is already slated to launch their own heated soft drink a couple of weeks after Hot Ginger Ale hits the market – titled Kirin No Awa: Hot Hojun Apple & Hop.  Could Pepsi also be in the works to launch their own heated beverage soon as well?

So far, these heated soft drinks are primed for release in Japan and no other country.  However, the technology is more important than the soft drink itself.  While Westerners may find warm soft drinks hard to stomach, there may be other uses for this technology.  Heated coffee and tea sounds very plausible to penetrate the North American beverage landscape, and heated sport drinks and energy drinks may not be all that weird either.  And despite our perception of beverages being best served hot or cold, it’s innovations like these that really make you think about whether there is a different way to consume the beverage.

Diet Coke Advertisement: Aspartame is Safe

It seems that the beverage manufacturers have to continually defend the health & safety of their products in order to keep it selling.  Most recently, energy drink manufacturers like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar had to defend the caffeine content of their products as well as provide a recommended daily dosage.  Prior to that, Coca-Cola ran a campaign calling for unification behind calorie consumption, to defend general claims that soft drinks contributed to obesity.  The latest defense comes from Diet Coke, defending the safety of their chemical sweetener: aspartame.

Here’s their print ad that they ran in some American publications.

Coca-Cola's Diet Coke print ad, describing the safety of aspartame from 200+ studies over the last 40 years.

While the safety debate continues to polarize consumers and manufacturers alike, it’s interesting to note the timing of the advertisement itself.  Aspartame controversies have been around since the 1970s when diet soda products have also been around, why the need to make a statement to calm consumers down?  It turns out that Diet Coke’s sales are slipping – faster than the average rate of decline itself.  When a category is in decline, the best case scenario is that your product is outperforming the category benchmark.  That is, your product itself is still growing and outpacing category performance or at least declining at a slower rate than the category.  It seems that Diet Coke is down 6% and is losing sales at a faster rate than the category.  This in effect makes this advertisement a campaign to stimulate sales, where calming aspartame fears is a means to an end.  If Diet Coke is able to change the negative consumer perception toward aspartame, it looks like they may be able to reverse their fortune.

In the meantime, Pepsi’s portfolio of products have not done anything to unite and combat against calories nor dispel the fears toward diet products.  Pepsi may be content to let Coca-Cola do the heavy lifting on these media campaign, while reaping the benefits of success if the campaigns work.  After all, if consumers regain confidence for aspartame as a sweetener, Diet Pepsi also stands to see a sales increase.

Also important to note is that Pepsi may see this momentary weakness of Diet Coke and look to restore their position as the Number 2 soda behind Coca-Cola.  If that is the goal in mind, they will indeed need to concentrate their resources on Pepsi, rather than join up with Coca-Cola to combat the negative perception toward aspartame.

Labor Day Holiday: Check Back Next Week

Happy Labor day everybody!  I’m away on vacation this week but will return next week with a beverage post.  In the meantime, you can still find me on twitter tweeting about beverages!

 

Have a good short work-week!