Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
As the world has reopened — albeit in fits and starts — consumers have returned en masse to pre-pandemic activities that take them out of the house, especially as working from home and social distancing have remained aspects of daily life. But this summer, the world consumers have returned to has been roiled by a heat wave that has spread across the globe, making hydration an increasingly important part of the equation.
For those looking beyond water for their hydration needs, the market is heavy with functional beverages whose very category name — sports drinks — ties their electrolyte-replacing power with athletics and the athletes that power their ad campaigns.
Liquid I.V., a Unilever-owned wellness brand that specializes in powdered electrolyte drink mixes, wanted to announce its brand benefit and educate consumers about hydration with its first fully integrated national campaign, “Fuel Your Play.” The campaign — powered by a $20 million ad buy — seeks to explore what the brand considers a white space in the market: the idea of play, in all its forms.
Before launching the campaign, Liquid I.V. began with consumer research and found two major points — the link between hydration and high-intensity sports competition had been well-established in the market, and consumers had returned to hobbies and outdoor activities — whose disconnect created an opening for the brand.
“Consumers felt that this high-intensity sports space was not super-relatable to their lives — they were much more into everyday activities — the skating, the hiking, the hanging out with friends by the pool — that really is what they consider their active lifestyle,” said Stacey Andrade, vice president of marketing for Liquid I.V. “For us, it really opened up this opportunity to talk about hydration in a different and new way that is not being done in the marketplace.”
Play in L.A.
The brand turned to creative studio SixTwentySix to help craft its digital video commercial, a 30-second spot that is alive with activity — a dance crew in the street, a father playing with children, people skateboarding and diving into a lake — that move seamlessly with clever transitions and shares a couple crucial statistics around the brand’s value proposition. The company used Liquid I.V.’s research and brief as a jumping off point.
“We came to the realization that people look at hydration reactively, and we wanted to show it in a cool, playful way, where it’s more of a proactive thing, where it’s not just about competition and sports,” said Jake Krask, co-founder and managing director at SixTwentySix. “It’s more like just having fun every day, using the real benefits of hydration to fully encompass yourself and whatever you really enjoy doing to get the full benefits out of it.”
Amid the company’s campaign proposals was one with a “West Coast, Los Angeles vibe” that focused on outdoor activities that felt the most honest and relatable to the brand. That pitch was an obvious winner for a company founded and based in El Segundo, California, in Los Angeles county.
“There was something very authentic about staying true to our roots and really placing this ad in Los Angeles. We were very intentional about finding those locations, those communities, those stories that felt very authentic to L.A.,” Andrade said.
To fully embrace the heartbeat of Los Angeles, one campaign vignette features skateboarders at the iconic Venice Beach skatepark. The opening and closing vignette features an L.A.-based dance group, The Council, that bills itself as an “all-female empowerment collective.” Along with providing truly Angeleno flavor, the vignettes underscore the brand’s wide range of potential customers — an inclusive edge necessary to engage with its Gen Z and millennial target audience.
“We really wanted to show this variety of different usage occasions, different activities, different locations, and also different consumers,” Andrade said. “There’s different ages, ethnicities — hydration is something that is incredibly universal — so we wanted that to also come through all of the choices that we made creatively throughout the spot.”
A $20 million effort
Liquid I.V. was founded in 2012 and acquired by Unilever in 2020. Historically, the brand has invested in influencer and performance marketing, establishing a strong presence in the digital space. “Fuel Your Play” is the brand’s first-ever 360-degree national brand campaign.
“This was an opportunity for us to really layer on some of those top of funnel marketing approaches to really drive reach and awareness behind our brand,” Andrade said.
The campaign will be powered by a $20 million ad buy, with the video spot running across YouTube and over-the-top channels including Hulu, Peacock and Paramount+. Liquid I.V. will also continue to rely on influencer marketing, rolling out a “Pass the Pack” effort where influencers share a hobby and explain how hydration helps them enjoy and perform the activity, before passing the torch to another influencer who will do the same.
Aside from video and influencer content, the campaign will include a “meaningful” out-of-home buy across golf courses, local transit, gym screens and Los Angeles locales that will allow the brand to meet consumers where they are actually playing and being active. In kind, the brand will run its first major national sampling tour, traveling this summer to states that have the highest temperatures.
“Sampling has always been at the cornerstone of our marketing strategy,” Andrade said. “We call it ‘getting sticks in hands,’ because we know that once you try it, you will love it.”