News Analysis: Powerade eyes feminine appeal
Coca-Cola is targeting women as it attempts to boost its share of the sports water market. Nicola Clark reports.
Years ago a swig of tap water was seen as sufficient for an athlete after a workout, but these days there is a bewildering variety of carefully formulated options, including sports drinks, sports waters, energy drinks and mineral waters.
Coca-Cola is now adding another element to the mix: Powerade Aqua+, a sports water aimed at women.
The drink, which launches next month, fits with Coca-Cola's strategy of moving into the functional drinks and health market as demand for full-calorie carbonated drinks continues to decline. As such, it joins a burgeoning range of products promising consumers myriad health and lifestyle benefits.
The product, which will be available in lime and grapefruit flavours, is to be promoted by a soft launch with an extensive PR campaign, focused on brand ambassadors Kirsty Gallacher, the TV presenter, and fitness guru Matt Roberts. Above-the-line advertising will not kick off until next year.
Powerade has focused its marketing strategy on sponsorship and high-profile brand ambassadors since its European launch in October 2001. The initial 'Team Powerade' comprised rugby star Jason Robinson, Liverpool and England footballer Steven Gerrard, champion rower Matthew Pinsent, decathlete Dean Macey and triathlete Jodie Swallow.
A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola says the decision to expand the brand follows extensive consumer research. 'Women were not persuaded by the masculine marketing-speak and promotion of sports drinks and do not buy into concepts such as isotonic sports drinks.'
The Coke brand team has sought to distinguish the exercise done by women, such as going to the gym or practising yoga, from the more masculine team sports associated with men. 'Women are more focused on their overall wellbeing.
They are more analytical about their drinks and don't want to consume too many calories or artificial flavourings. They are more focused on hydration,' explains the spokeswoman.
Powerade Aqua+ will be stocked in mainstream retailers, as well as gyms.
While there may be a market for a mainstream women's 'wellbeing' drink, it has received a mixed reaction, with some retailers suggesting that Powerade Aqua+'s positioning fails to place it neatly within the sports, energy or health segments. 'Energy drinks and sports drinks are a defined category, while sports waters will inevitably compete against flavoured waters and mainstream water brands,' says one insider.
Another is more forthright about the variant's prospects. 'Powerade gets a bigger market share than it deserves in the UK simply because Coca-Cola owns so much chiller space.' He believes that Aqua+ will succeed on the strength of Coca-Cola's distribution system, which he describes as 'second to none'.
John Band, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor, believes the launch reflects Coca-Cola's strategy of seeking a presence across all categories, regardless of whether it has a real chance of becoming the number one player.
Coca-Cola is wary of doing big launches in the UK and doesn't want to risk dredging up the failure of Dasani in 2004,' he says. 'What we are seeing now is a more softly-softly approach to broadening its portfolio.' Band predicts the sports drink market will grow 3.1% between 2003 and 2008.
Insiders say the launch of Aqua+ has been delayed due to problems with sales targets and suggest that it was initially planned to tie up with this summer's disappointing British and Irish Lions rugby tour of New Zealand. 'Powerade is a hero brand in the US and there is a feeling that (its performance) has been somewhat lacklustre in the UK,' says one rival.
'It does not have the heritage of established brands such as Lucozade.'
Other marketing experts say the launch is based on solid consumer insight.
Jasmine Montgomery, executive director of strategy at FutureBrand, believes Coca-Cola has spotted a genuine market opportunity. 'There are so many food and drink products aimed at women with an indulgence message that the wellbeing and sports market has to catch up,' she says.
Montgomery points to the success Nike has had in reaching female consumers in the sports sector as proof of the benefits of intelligently targeting women. 'It has traditionally been a male-dominated arena, although it is women who buy the majority of products,' she says.
Tamar Kasriel, head of knowledge venturing at the Henley Centre, believes Aqua+ is well-placed to benefit from consumers' good intentions. 'There has not been a big increase in participation levels in sports, but more consumers are aspiring to lead the kind of healthy lifestyle that they do not have either the time or inclination to fulfil.'
Giles Morgan, managing director of sports marketing and sponsorship at Hill & Knowlton, says Powerade is the long-sought 'missing element' of Coca-Cola's UK portfolio. 'Lucozade really has stolen a march on its rivals, and with the influx of independent players, such as Taut (Marketing, 7 September), the sports drink market is shaping up to be a real battle ground,' he adds.
Powerade has a clear strategy for the Aqua+ variant and a well-defined target audience, according to a spokeswoman. Coca-Cola's in-house sponsorship team has selected approachable ambassadors that consumers can relate to, as opposed to the tried-and-tested formula of leading athletes whose levels of fitness are poles apart from consumers' own.
Datamonitor's Band sees the wisdom in this more realistic approach. 'If your daily exercise consists of sitting at a desk and on the Tube, the chances are that you don't need a sports drink,'he says.
However, with increasingly busy lifestyles, health, wellbeing and energy are compelling ideas to sell to time-strapped consumers. Drinking a sports water may be a way for consumers to convince themselves that they are looking after the bodies without having to break out into a sweat.
This article was first published on Marketing
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