Nestle Marathon water switch signals intent

LONDON - Nestle Waters UK is to sponsor the London Marathon through bottled-water brand Nestle Pure Life (NPL), rather than Vittel, it announced last week.

NPL, the first brand to be introduced to the bottled-water market under the Nestle brand, has enjoyed little marketing investment since its UK launch last year. How-ever, the sponsorship deal, which begins in 2010, reflects Nestle's growing backing for the brand.

Last year, 5bn litres of NPL were sold globally, making it the biggest bottled-water brand worldwide. The drink was rolled out in UK supermarkets last year, supported only by point-of-sale activity targeting families.

'It has been a considered approach, as we're in it for the long term,' says Rebecca White, head of marketing at Nestle Waters UK. 'It's not about making a fashion statement, it's about an everyday need.

We think that the accessibility of the brand demystifies what is a very simple product.'

Nestle has observed the pro-duct's performance in other markets, and White is convinced that NPL can become a significant player in the UK.

Although she declines to comment on the specifics of increasing the brand's global marketing efforts, White adds that investment will be based on performance.

The London Mara-thon sponsorship switch spells bad news for Vittel, however, which has sponsored the event for the past 11 years.

The brand's sales for the 12 months to October plummeted more than 50%, according to Nielsen, following a 30% decline over the same period in the previous year.

'Vittel has been part of a long-term strategy,' says White. 'The brand is about people on-the-go. It partners with the Tour de France and, if we choose to support it, activity would be based on this.'

Yet Andrew Marsden, marketing consultant and a former Britvic marketing director, believes that Vittel is in danger due to a shift in consumer behaviour.

'Vittel has never really been regarded as a quality product, and has always been second-tier,' he says. 'It now faces an even tougher challenge - especially as consumers appear to be moving towards water brands that add value, such as those in the "near water" or "water-plus" categories.'

Marsden adds that the Marathon sponsorship move presents a difficult challenge.

'The decision to re-priori-tise investment shows that Nestle has realised that Pure Life is its route forward,' he says. 'It is, however, risky, as no one has really heard of the brand in the UK.'

He continues: 'Many brands believe that sponsoring big-name events is the answer, but you have to develop relation-ships with consumers and trade on a local level. Sponsor-ship activity is not a substitute for proper marketing.'

Far from radically shaking up the market, NPL has endured a quiet existence since its launch. The sponsorship investment is a reward for steadily increasing sales, but it will take more than sponsorship activation alone for Nestle to grow NPL into a serious player.




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