A natural thirst for first place

Andy Murray, Lassie and packaging that pushes its organic credentials are being used by Highland Spring in a marketing campaign that aims to make it the UK’s number one bottled water brand. By Joe Fernandez

Already the UK’s largest exporter of bottled water, Highland Spring has unveiled its latest brand makeover with new packaging and an aggressive marketing strategy in a quest to become the UK’s number one bottled water brand overall, as revealed by Marketing Week (16 April).

Highland Spring is currently offering consumers the chance to “Get set with Andy Murray” and win a VIP day with the tennis star, who is ranked number three in the world, through an on-pack promotion. A similar promotion with Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Sir Chris Hoy will follow.

The company is exclusive beverage sponsor to Andy Murray and his brother, Jamie. It is also official water supplier to the Lawn Tennis Association, Visit Scotland and London Irish rugby union club. This week the brand celebrated Andy Murray winning the Aegon Championship, which it also sponsored.

The brand is also pushing its organic credentials, with its new designs highlighting how the water is drawn from organic land and using hand-drawn imagery of Highland Spring’s source in the Ochil Hills, Perthshire.

Highland Spring marketing director Sally Stanley thinks the organic message can cut through the competitive market for bottled water.

lthough she sees “store brands looking to gain a larger share”, she says that Highland Spring’s certification as organic sets it apart from these rivals. She adds: “With 70% of adults drinking bottled water, facts like these are core to the choices you make in the supermarket aisles.”

Highland Spring chief executive Les Montgomery supports this view, claiming: “Consumers are increasingly keen to know exactly where their preferred natural bottled water comes from and appreciate the fact that it cannot be treated with any chemicals, unlike tap water.”

Consumers are increasingly keen to know exactly where their preferred natural bottled water comes from and appreciate the fact that it cannot be treated with any chemicals, unlike tap water

Les Montgomery,
Highland Spring

Highland Spring has already managed to top the carbonated market with a 15.1% share in the UK. But Danone Water’s Evian still outstrips it overall, leaving Highland Spring as Britain’s number two brand with a share of 8.6%, compared with Evian’s 9.7%, according to Zenith International’s UK Bottled Water 2009 report.

YouGov’s brand “Buzz” figures, which show how much brands are being discussed online, also suggests that while Highland Spring appears to have been talked about more over the last six months than Evian, its competitor Volvic has recently seen a surge in the number of discussions about it (see chart).

A poster and press campaign featuring tender moments from famous films of the Thirties and Forties, including Lassie Come Home and Tarzan, is being launched to support the redesign of Highland Spring. Each ad incorporates the green Highland Spring bottle in the interaction between famous movie partners, with the strapline “Now that’s true love”.

Stanley explains that the campaign is intended to help consumers develop an emotional connection with the brand. She feels that building a relationship between drinkers and Highland Spring using the organic sourcing and provenance as a starting point is vital to convince people to buy the brand rather than own-label equivalents with less personality.

Highland Spring has also agreed sponsorship deals with several sports personalities and events to bring the brand’s value to life for consumers in a practical sense.

“Staying hydrated is essential for best performance, so we are committed to forging the link between active sport and good hydration and especially to encourage more children to take up new active sports and to adopt healthier drinking habits,” says Stanley. “We have a comprehensive schedule of sponsorships that seeks to leverage that link.”

The link with the Murrays helps Highland Spring push its children’s water business. While kids might not be so susceptable to messages about organic provenance, they are interested in sporting celebrities. By associating the brand and water with figures such as Murray, Highland Spring hopes to make its product appear as an essential for youngsters.

It seems to be succeeding so far in this aim, taking the number one spot for kids’ bottled water. Stanley says: “It’s so important that we show that water is healthy and should be drunk every day by children and adults alike. The addition of sports personalities helps parents and children realise that if their sporting heroes are drinking Highland Spring water, so should they.

“This is very important to all water brands, but obviously for us as an independent brand, we rely on such assets to help us maintain our market momentum,” she adds.

Highland Spring has joined up with other companies in the water market to create a body called the National Hydration Council. The body promotes the benefits of drinking water as part of an everyday lifestyle and Highland Spring is keen to ensure that consumers think of water as a mode of hydration, instead of simply drinking carbonated drinks such as colas.

“It isn’t really about choosing tap water or bottled water – that’s a bit of a red herring. Natural bottled water is often compared with tap water, but research shows that nine out of ten consumers are choosing [bottled water] in place of other drinks, rather than tap water,” claims Stanley.
Rather than worrying that people are likely to turn on the taps and stop buying Highland Spring, she sees the likes of Pepsi and Coca-Cola as the alternatives luring consumers away from water. “It’s trying to ensure consumers have options to keep them hydrated, and for us that’s about competing with our commercial soft drinks rivals,” she says.

Stanley is confident that Highland Spring can become the number one brand in the UK within a year. She claims it is already on the verge of gaining top spot in impulse lines in supermarkets. “All the indicative data suggests we are doing better than others and are the only major brand to be gaining new consumers,” she says. “In the second half of last year, we had a 26.1% penetration – a 5.6% increase on the previous six months, and we are expecting to see major success in the supermarket figures for the first half of this year, which come out soon and should show us as the favourite water brand.”

Rick Miler, FMCG specialist at Vermouth Consulting, agrees that this is a possibility. “The water market has grown over the last few years and Highland Spring has been very successful without heavy expenditure on marketing and advertising,” he says.

“It’s very possible that Highland Spring’s focus on high-quality plain bottled water, with fewer variants than its rivals – at a time when consumers are focused on healthy lifestyles and diets – could help it topple Evian.”

The competitive nature of the bottled water sector, along with lower priced supermarket own-brands attempting to increase their market share, means that no one brand may get a clear run at total domination in the short term. But with its focus on its organic provenance and generating emotion through ads and sponsorship, Highland Spring may well have the chance to make a decent splash.

Facts & figures

Highland Spring

  • Highland Spring is owned by billionaire United Arab Emirates businessman Mahdi Al Tajir
  • The company is the UK’s leading supplier of bottled water
  • It produces still and sparkling water at its factory in Blackford, Perth, and Kinross, Scotland
  • Zenith International named Highland Spring the highest-selling sparkling water in the UK in 2008. Shortly after, the company climbed to second-place position in the UK still water market
  • Highland Spring water is drawn from a protected underground source in the Ochil Hills where no farming, agricultural spraying, building or habitation is permitted within the 2,000-acre catchment area. The company was the first British brand of bottled water to receive organic accreditation for its catchment area from The Soil Association
  • The company uses sponsorship to promote active sports and good hydration. It works with athletes such as newly knighted Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and British number-one tennis star Andy Murray, as well as sponsoring events such as the Aegon Championships
  • The company has acquired several companies in the past decade, including the Gleneagles Spring Water Company, also based in Blackford, and the Speyside Glenlivet Water Company, based in Ballindalloch
  • Highland Spring’s turnover was £51.4m in 2008. The company employs nearly 300 staff.

The state of the plain water market

According to Britvic’s Soft Drinks Report 2009, which uses data from Nielsen, water sales have been falling in the last two years, compared with other soft drinks.

The report suggests sales dropped 9% to £417m at the end of last year, with branded water doing better than own labels. Highland Spring sales are reported to have remained flat, while rival brands Evian and Volvic saw sales fall (down 7% and 13% respectively). However, Buxton is reported to have seen its sales rise by 3% and relaunched brand Drench increased sales by 67%.

Competitive marketing for water brands

Highland Spring is not the only water brand competing for consumer attention this summer. While the Scottish brand focuses on on-pack promotions featuring athletes such as Andy Murray and Chris Hoy, as well as its press campaign featuring Lassie, among other movie stars, its rivals are also stepping up their games to gain customers ahead of the predicted Indian summer.

Volvic has started marketing its 14-day challenge concept, while Evian is preparing its own sports-focused promotion as the official water brand for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the end of the month. Russian tennis star Elena Dementieva will feature in a campaign for Evian, which will include outdoor posters and a dedicated website using the “Live young” sign-off.

Britvic has launched an on-pack campaign to boost summer sales of its Drench mineral water brand and remind consumers of the importance of staying hydrated, and Schweppes Abbey Well has already begun rolling out its Get Britain Schwimming campaign.

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