Super Models Promoting Super Water

Mention the guy who works in a bottling plant, or the owners of a family bottled water company and you will likely get blank stares. Mention Jennifer Anniston and the room lights up. "We all know hot models and celebs move products off shelves, but now even bottled water companies are using super hot stars to push their products," says major news provider CNN.

Supermodel Cindy Crawford recently signed with Propel Fitness Water to use traditional media as well as social media campaigns touting the benefits of water. Ken Tate of the Huston Oilers pitches HINT water; talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is the face of Vitamin water, and the reality TV juggernaut Kardashian family will be private labeling their own water. But it was Jennifer Anniston's mini-movie or long format commercial, depending on your perspective, which Smartwater is banking on to change the face of advertising. In the two minute ad, viewed by more than two million people as a viral video, and shown only on-line, she plays with puppies, makes fun of herself, watches babies dance and a whole lot more. Estimates range from one to four million dollars as her paycheck. No one really knows, but Smartwater is betting on a likable Anniston promoting tried and true humor to sell water. A poll conducted by the Huffington Post showed that 59 percent of respondents felt the ad would make them buy Smartwater. If those numbers hold true, Smartwater might be very smart indeed. "Marketers are now beginning to target an online demographic directly with content that draws on elements of Internet culture," says Sara Marie Watson of the Brightcove Community, a leading online video platform which promotes and monetizes Internet video, of the Anniston ad. "These campaigns target impressions not based on advertisement buys on broadcast networks, but on social networks, blogs, and YouTube." And this is exactly where some bottled water sales are needing help the most; creating non-traditional media campaigns. "What's so interesting about this co-option of Internet culture into branded advertising is that it achieves something relatively unique to the online medium," Watson adds. "These ads are subject to social sharing, and are actually serving as destination content that is directly navigated to and searched, rather than the traditional advertising mode of imposing an impression on a viewer who is actually in the middle of watching something else." And that is a key point as the bottled water industry seeks to reinvent itself. "The flip from push to pull is an important distinction in this new social media-inspired mode of advertising. It suggests that marketers have a new remit not only to find ways to put their product in front of viewers, but to be providing value and entertainment in that content, such that it's able to stand on its own." That may be a hard pill to swallow for medium to small-sized bottlers who may not have the discretionary income to pursue such advertising, however things are changing.

Let's face it; most companies cannot afford Jennifer Anniston. "So what responsibility do celebrities have when they endorse a product?" complains bottled water critic and director of the anti-bottled water film Tapped, Stephanie Soechtig. "We know their endorsement sells more product or companies would have stopped using them ages ago. We often vilify younger celebrities for being bad role models when they are out partying yet we say nothing when Jennifer Aniston credits Smartwater for her killer abs." First off, water is healthy and if the ad connects the health dots with water, so be it. Second, inherent in most celebrity endorsements are programs designed to support viable charities. Smartwater donates a percentage of their sales to Action for Healthy Kids, a non-profit group making changes in schools to help students eat and drink well and exercise more. Smartwater donates $.05 for each 1-liter bottle sold, and they claim they guarantee a minimum donation of $1,000,000. Right there, that is generous seed money to help fight childhood obesity. Granted, Smartwater is part of Coca Cola, and therefore their advertising budget is different than most, but the basic concept of utilizing available social media is the latest and currently best trend. But that alone does not guarantee success. A recent case in point was Pepsi's Refresh Project which accomplished everything a social media program was expected to: over 80 million votes were registered on the website; over 3.5 million "likes" on the Pepsi Facebook page; over 60,000 Twitter followers. They donated money to good causes and planned to sell a lot of Pepsi. But they didn't. For whatever reason, this multimedia platform failed expectations.

Smartwater may or may not sell a ton of bottled water. It is however good entertainment and it capitalizes on pop culture in a way that is humorous and honest. It seems when advertising is forced, say a high concept idea, it doesn?t work, but when an organic idea is allowed time to germinate and be explored, the company does far better. In the case of Smartwater, the Anniston video is proof that entertainment is critical in today's fickle buying public. The water may not sell, but seeing Jennifer Aniston with a bunch of puppies is still appealing.

By Michael Cervin, Senior Editor - Bottled Water