Joins Gaming World to Sell Water
June 22, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- In a clear shift in marketing
strategy for a consumer brand aligning with a video-game
title, Nestlé Waters' Aquapod (a natural spring water
that appeals to kids with its rocket-shaped bottle) has
signed on as a strategic partner for the launch of
"Active Life: Outdoor Challenge." The title is a casual
video game for the Nintendo Wii that Namco/Bandai will
launch in September.
In an unusually strong commitment to a casual game,
Namco is readying half a million copies for sale by the
end of the year.
Until now, consumer brands have been leery of
associating too closely with a video game's launch,
largely because the titles whose sales make them worth
associating with also usually contained so much gore and
violence that any marketing benefit would be negated.
For instance, while it's true that "Grand Theft Auto IV"
sold more than 6 million copies in its first week, it's
also a game wherein players can actually burn a hooker
to death. Games such as "Grand Theft Auto" and "Halo"
also require skill and large investments of time. Casual
games are video games developed to be played by anyone,
even those who've never played a game before.
Of course, the beverage industry hasn't had an easy go
of it in recent years, either. Under pressure from
high-powered politicos and medical authorities to help
end childhood obesity, it voluntarily removed all
high-calorie soft drinks from American schools in 2006.
Get in the game
By doing so, marketers likely headed off a hornet's nest
of regulation and legislation at the pass, but they
suddenly had to answer a difficult question: Having
spent billions to get children to crave their
sugary-sweet, colorful drinks, "how do we get kids to
prefer water?" asked Jorge Torres, a senior director of
youth marketing at Nestlé Waters, who steered the
company into the "Active Life" deal.
An answer to Mr. Torres' question seems to be video
gaming -- specifically, casual gaming.
The Nestlé/Namco deal on "Active Life" seems as much
geared toward moving product as toward insulating the
video-game and beverage industries from criticism that
they contribute to childhood obesity.
Unlike so many sedentary, violent games, "Active Life"
forces players to actually leap about, performing
physically vigorous feats such as logrolling, jumping
rope, stomp-a-mole and river rafting.
"We're limiting the amount of calories kids take in
[with Aquapod], and offering kids a chance to expend
calories via the game," said Mr. Torres.
Nestle Waters rolled out Aquapod just two months after
former President Bill Clinton and then-Arkansas Gov.
Mike Huckabee announced the voluntary ban of sugary
drinks in schools in May 2006. It was an orb lobbed
squarely in the direction of families with kids aged 6
So far, Aquapod has been a success story, even as the
bottled-water industry braces for a slowdown. Beverage
Digest reports retail sales of bottled water grew only
9% last year, compared with 16% in 2006.
Mr. Torres noted that while Nestlé Waters North America
accounted for about one-third of all bottled-water sales
in the U.S. last year, more than any other bottler, its
top three brands -- Poland Spring, Arrowhead and Nestlé
Purelife -- came in third, fourth and fifth, lagging
behind No. 1 seller Dasani, from Coke, and No. 2
Aquafina, from Pepsi.
"Obviously, we want to be No. 1," said Mr. Torres.
His deal with Namco might go a long way toward achieving
that. According to the Casual Games Association's 2007
market report, 74% of paying casual-games customers were
female, and 72% of them were women over 35. That means
the mothers who learn of "Active Life" through the 1
million bottles of branded water coming to stores this
fall are more likely to be receptive to Aquapod's
healthful qualities and to appreciate the video game's
aerobic benefit to their kids. They may even pick up
"Active Life" themselves. In return, coupons inside
boxes of "Active Life" will offer a reduced price on a
pack of Aquapod.
The growth of consumer brands' interest in the casual
game segment has also changed Namco's approach to
marketing. Andrew Lelchuk, exec VP-sales and marketing
at Namco explained: "As we first see design documents
for a game, we now start to think about what kind of
partner can be drawn into that game."
But don't look for ads in "Active Life" or any other Wii
casual title his company makes. "We tread somewhat
lightly on the inclusion of third parties into our
games," Mr. Lelchuk said, adding, "We don't want to turn
this into a commercial experience; it's not meant to
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