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Perrier

The water brand has thrived for more than a century, thanks to its natural credentials and sophisticated image.

With its green droplet-shaped bottle and art nouveau-style logo, Perrier could scarcely seem more French. However, it was an aristocratic Englishman who helped popularise the fizzy-water brand.

Dr Louis Perrier bought the site of a spring in the Languedoc region of France where naturally carbonated water bubbled to the surface. He developed a bottling technique, but needed a finance partner for the project. Francophile Sir St John Harmsworth, a younger brother of newspaper publishers Lord Rothermere and Lord Northcliffe, was Perrier's white knight. He invested in the company and renamed it Source Perrier.

Harmsworth's early efforts at marketing resulted in Perrier being exported to corners of the British Empire where water quality was suspect.

It also became popular with the British royal family.

He was also reputed to have provided the inspiration for the distinctive bottles. While recuperating from a car crash, he used wooden hand-clubs to exercise, which were the same shape as the water bottle.

From the beginning, the Perrier brand has emphasised its natural credentials. Bottled at source, it claims a unique mineral composition and healthy properties.

After World War II, Perrier was acquired by Frenchman Gustave Leven, who modernised production and grew Perrier to be France's leading brand by using chic advertising that emphasised upmarket appeal, with slogans such as 'the Champagne of waters'. Leven helped the company break into the US and other markets.

Perrier rode the health crazes of the 70s and 80s, becoming a sophisticated alternative to alcohol. Its sponsorship of the French Open tennis at Roland Garros confirmed its upmarket image. Flavoured brand extensions were launched in 1985.

Just as it was reaching its zenith, the brand suffered a calamitous benzene-adulteration incident in 1990, that led to a global product recall. It is estimated that this cost the company $150m, and it was bought by Nestle two years later.

Under Nestle's stewardship, the brand has made a comeback, moving with the times and introducing a plastic bottle in 2001. Limited-edition designs have created a sense of fun, while a partnership featuring burlesque star Dita von Teese struck a similar chord.

Its marketing emphasises nightlife and clubbing with recent initiatives such as 'Societe Perrier, a 'what's hot' website that features art, music and lifestyle listings.

Perrier now sells about 1bn bottles a year, with exports to 140 countries. It employs 1000 people at its Vergeze site, where the water continues to bubble through limestone.


BRAND LESSON

James Joice, client director, JKR

Although it pains us to admit it, there are some French qualities we have to admire.

Perrier is the embodiment of many of them: effortlessly stylish, alluringly sophisticated and unapologetically stubborn. For while the droplet-shaped bottle is beautiful and distinctive, it is also impractical. Its curvature and single contact point make it difficult to get down a production line with any speed.

That's what makes it the genuine article; it's too sure of itself to worry about such practicalities. Perrier is brimming with authenticity and that's why it sells 1bn bottles a year.

The brand didn't just make mineral water an acceptable soft drink - it made it aspirational. As the line 'the Champagne of waters' brilliantly expressed, you really did feel like you were having a special moment when you fizzed open a bottle of Perrier. It was a truly status-affirming brand.

In recent times, growing concerns about sustainability and a stuttering economy have taken some of the shine off bottled mineral waters. Both our consciences and our wallets find it a more difficult purchase to justify, a truth that the UNICEF Tap project has exploited to brilliant effect.

Perrier has found ways to stay relevant though. Its limited-edition designs with well-chosen partners keep the brand feeling fresh. They also demonstrate the distinctiveness of its core identity. For even when it lends its pack canvas to someone else, it is still unmistakably Perrier.


TIMELINE

1863: Napoleon III gave mineral water status to a spring in Vergeze.

1898: Dr Louis Perrier bought a spring in southern France and began to sell bottled water from his spa.

1903: Sir St John Harmsworth invested in the company, renaming the spring 'Source Perrier'.

1946: Paris stockbroker Gustave Leven acquired the company.

1985: Perrier with a twist was introduced, with lemon, lime and orange flavours.

1990: Perrier recalled 160m bottles worldwide after benzene contamination was found by a US laboratory.

1992: Nestle acquired Source Perrier.

2001: The brand introduced a PET bottle after 11 years of research into which plastic would be most suitable.

2011: Perrier launched Dita von Teese limited-edition packaging.

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