Watsons Water has been a staple in Hong Kong for nearly a century. It’s something locals have grown up with, consistently capturing the lead in market share and 96 percent brand awareness. But its reputation as an innovator, coupled with new competitors snapping at its heels, meant Watsons Water decided it was time for a radical makeover. And the results have been impressive.

Known and trusted for its purity and safety (Watsons Water was the first supplier in Asia to be awarded certification from both ISO and NSF International and continues to surpass all international standards), Watsons Water was also seen by consumers as conservative, traditional and formal. This image was reinforced by previous television and print advertising, which featured laboratory-like scenarios, and later ad campaigns that focused on the family.

To get closer to consumers, Watsons Water conducted extensive consumer research, which showed that while the Watsons Water name meant purity and trust, it didn’t touch consumers on an emotional level. Desirable attributes consumers identified were humor, personality, passion, drive and charm.

Armed with these insights, Watsons Water embarked on a comprehensive strategy to redefine the personality of Watsons Water by addressing every area of the company’s business. This included everything from adapting delivery and invoicing methods and addressing staff culture, to high profile marketing initiatives aimed at telling consumers more explicitly that Watsons Water stands for innovation.

Key marketing initiatives included new product development, new packaging and a revolutionary new advertising campaign in partnership with Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB).

Product development

Overcoming an instinctive reluctance to tamper with Watsons Water’s reputation for ‘purity’ by offering anything but 100 percent pure distilled water, the company recognised the need for new product development as a way of underscoring its commitment to innovation.

Taking the concept of Watsons Water With Minerals to consumer research, the company discovered that there would be no adverse effect on the brand – in fact, it would be perceived as the ‘purest water with the purest minerals added’. The subsequent launch of competitors’ distilled water with minerals products provided further endorsement of this tactic.

Watsons Water has since gone on to introduce Watsons Water for Sport combining distilled water with essential minerals, vitamins and glucose, in two flavours, contained in new pouch packs. For the distilled water industry, this has proven to be another market-leading initiative.

Packaging

Consumers liked many aspects of the old distilled water bottle, especially its functional design, durability and transparency. Taking account of this, Watsons Water retained these features in the design of its new bottle but added originality to the mix. The result: A distinctive bottle with a voluptuous shape that perfectly mirrors the key message of the accompanying ad campaign based on the theme “It’s Your Body”.

Apart from the shape, the unique cap cover has been a key point of interest for many consumers and has helped to build a more compelling ‘personality’ for the bottle and for Watsons Water. The cap was simply designed to give the bottle a smooth profile, but it has led some people to dub Watsons Water as ‘the bullet bottle’. Some consumers have also taken to using the cap as a cup.

Completing the new look, a more contemporary sleeve design was added that has a flowing design, uses a brighter green and features a more impactful logo.

Advertising

All these changes clearly required a change of direction in Watsons Water advertising. Inevitably, this led to a competitive pitch, with five agencies invited to pitch for the business in late 2001. Foote, Cone and Belding (FCB) won the pitch in January 2002.

“FCB’s pitch was unique, not only because it exceeded the brief, but also because they presented a creative campaign that we actually wanted to run with, without any significant modifications,” said Mr. Atkins.

Using its Mind & MoodTM proprietary communication tool, FCB confirmed Watsons Water’s own research showing that Hong Kong’s bottled water consumption lags behind that of other first-world cities. This provided the rationale for a strategic and creative approach that focuses on expanding the whole category by promoting the benefits of increased water consumption, with Watsons Water leading the way.

The advertising campaign based on the theme FCB presented at pitch – “It’s Your Body”– features three seductive, stylish television advertisements and additional print ads, which highlight the inextricable link between water and the human body.

In line with the ‘permission’ consumers had given Watsons Water to really push the boundaries, the advertisements FCB developed have a slightly edgy, cheeky element, as well as carrying serious messages.

“Did you know everyone loses about 2 cups of water a day just by breathing? To maintain the water you have two choices, hold your breath or drink more Watsons Water.”

“Your brain is 90% water. If you’re not getting at least 8 glasses a day, you may have a hard time remembering this.”

“Your spine depends on water for flexibility and support. Drinking Watsons Water can help maintain your balance. So now you know who’s watching your back.”

Results

The changes Watsons Water has made to its entire business operation, but especially its overall marketing strategy, have had outstanding results. The figures speak for themselves, with Watsons Water recording a double digit growth in sales since the launch of the new bottle and FCB ad campaign in June, despite the recessionary environment. Other positive results have included improved staff morale and overwhelmingly positive consumer feedback.

“While Watsons Water has been quietly innovating for many years, the changes have not been immediately obvious to consumers,” explained Mr. Atkins. “This time we’ve really listened to our consumers and made dramatic, far-reaching changes. And it’s clearly been the right strategy and one that we will continue to build on over the coming years.”