‘Be Not Bland’: 5 Questions with Sparkling Ice CMO Brian Kuz

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Sparkling Ice Be Not Bland

Sparkling Ice already has shaken the beverage business by giving consumers more choice and an increasingly popular alternative to carbonated soft drinks.

Now the brand, owned by Preston, Wash.-based Talking Rain, is planning a $37 million national marketing campaign in the US, is hitting the market with its first ever TV ad campaign.

The theme, “Be Not Bland,” is slightly tongue-in-cheek while embracing “authenticity and individuality, celebrating the people, places and personalities that fill life with flavor and ‘not bland’ moments, as the company put it in language aimed to appeal to millennials (in particular).

The spots (including “Caught in the Act” and “Upside Down,” above) focus on modern families in recognizable, everyday moments with one big twist.

Sparkling Ice Be Not Bland

“The Sparkling Ice journey has been far from bland,” according to CEO Kevin Klock, citing sales growth of more than 6,000 percent since 2010. “The time was right to roll out a campaign of this magnitude and attitude.”

Sparkling IceFormulated in bright colors and robust flavors with natural ingredients (and touches of some not-so-natural ingredients, such as the artificial sweetener sucralose) and packaged in a 17-ounce transparent plastic bottle, the zero-calorie brand has positioned itself as a better-for-you non-cola, clever distribution strategy, the faltering of rivals and international expansion as well as line extensions.

The best seems yet to come for a brand that already is worth more than $600 million a year at retail.  brandchannel spoke with Brian Kuz, chief marketing officer for the brand’s parent Talking Rain Beverage Co. He joined the company in October after extensive experience with brands including, most recently, Red Bull.

bc: Sparkling Ice is already a breakout success. Why is the timing right now for your first national US campaign?

Brian Kuz - Talking Rain / Sparkling IceBrian Kuz (right): It’s perfect right now. The brand has been built over time, especially the last six or seven years. There have been a lot of me-too products that have come out at the same time. But even with the big numbers, we haven’t built a big connection with consumers and our brand personality and how we’re different.

Especially now with what’s going on with sugar taxes and what’s going on with sales of carbonated soft drinks, it’s time to differentiate and lead consumers on to a new and healthier lifestyle.

Sparkling Ice / Be Not Bland

bc: How did you land on this particular creative approach?

Kuz: We did a lot of consumer research. And we asked consumers what they expected from us. They said to us that we don’t expect to have a perfect life or a polished one; life is real. That’s what we believed Sparkling Ice to be. The campaign should be about being real in a differentiated way.

“Be Not Bland” is all about not having that perfect life and striving for perfection but really focusing on standing out from the rest and still enjoying ourselves and having fun. That’s been what the brand is about, but we haven’t told that story.

bc: What are you doing beyond TV for this campaign?

Kuz: We’ll have a 360-degree approach. We’ll be in print. You’ll see us at retail and with some extra and incidental distribution. Our field marketing teams will execute in a different way. Socially and digitally you’ll see us come alive even more. We’re in the top 20 (US) beverage brands in that space right now, but this is our opportunity to come alive right now. In store and out of store you’ll see this campaign come alive.

bc: What role is being played by brand offshoots such as Essence Of, which debuted last year?

Kuz: These are natural extensions such as tea, lemonade and Essence Of. Essence Of is a great product for the heavy user of flavored waters who wants a break from intense flavors but something more than flat waters. It isn’t yet a significant product line but we’ll continue to focus on building it. The potential there is huge. What we need to do is focus on some sampling and get out into better distribution. But it’s a tough category and there are a lot of players.

Sparkling Ice

bc: How does “Be Not Bland” play into your bigger strategy to gain more market share from the industry heavyweights?

Kuz: It does play a role in the timing of this campaign. I’ve been traveling the world for six years for Red Bull talking about trends in beverages. There’s a shift now toward more flavor profiles and from zero to very few calories. So this is the time that it’s now catching up in the US.

We’re seeing a focus on sugar taxes in quite a few different cities and now is the time to educate consumers that this is a healthier alternative than CSDs (carbonated soft drinks) and also plays into the variety seeker out there who plays into a lot of different flavors. It’s the perfect storm of timing, with the decline of diet CSDs, the decline of CSDs in general, and taxes. People are looking for different alternatives than flat water, as well.


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