As the United States has watched its waistline grow significantly in the last two decades, marketing-savvy companies are working to make products and services that can help get Americans less fat and more fit seem sexier and more appealing.
Think bling-bling for bottled water -- a pretty dang dull product really -- to attract kids, and the repackaging of popular bad-for-you snacks into portion-controlled sizes.
Although they may have ulterior motives to cash in (literally) on people's weaknesses (as if we couldn't take only two cookies out of a larger and cheaper box?), the end result may not be all bad since the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 30 percent of U.S. adults 20 years of age and older -- over 60 million people -- are obese. And, the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980, with 16 percent -- over 9 million aged 6-19 -- considered overweight.
As more school systems purge soft drinks and other high-sugar drinks from their cafeteria menus, bottled water companies are looking to fill the void with kid-friendly graphics, funky bottle shapes and national advertising campaigns. Hoping to make a splash -- and get Mom's and Dad's approval too -- are Nestlé Waters North America, Cott, Kids Only and Advanced H2O.
"It's a big land rush now that carbonated soft drinks are getting the boot from schools," Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights magazine, told BrandWeek in a recent article. "What's tricky is there's a dual target: you want to offer something kids want to be seen with while also getting past moms. But coming up with a winning formula is difficult. Almost any sweetener is taboo among some moms, while plain water can strike kids as dull and moms as overpriced."
Nestlé Waters, which owns Poland Spring and Arrowhead, is launching Aquapod, rocket-ship shaped, 11-ounce bottles of spring water. Targeting 6- to 12-year-olds, animated ads proclaiming, "Aquapod spring water. A blast of fun," will start June 18 on Nickelodeon and other popular kids channels. If cereals and snackables can do it, why not water?
Nicole O'Connor, a representative for Aquapod, noted in BrandWeek that beverages are second only to toys when it comes to products that parents will allow children to choose.
Other companies are striking up licensing deals for the likes of Superman, Spider-Man, The Incredibles, Bratz and Scooby-Doo to catch kids' attention and ring in sales. Kids Only is charging $3.99 for a six-pack of bottles that are each about a pint.
Presumably, Nestle Waters is expecting a big return spending $2.6 million on media last year and $18.1 million in 2004, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
In addition, in early June, at the All Candy Expo sponsored by the National Confectioners Association, marketers for companies like The Hershey Co., Nestle USA, Simply Lite Foods Corp. and Whitman's unveiled low-calorie and calorie-controlled versions of various candy bars, fruit gummies and chocolates. Hershey's chocolate candy sticks and a 100-calorie candy bars due out this year are byproducts of Hershey's Center for Health and Nutrition, which opened last month.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a Chicago Tribune article that bigger portions are one of the big contributors of the excess calories that people are eating and the rising obesity rate. But, she pointed out, "just because the portion size is small, it doesn't make an Oreo into an apple. People have to remember that a lot of these portion-control foods are still junk foods."
Bob Goldin, vice president of Technomics Inc., a Chicago-based market research company, also told the Chicago Tribune that the industry needs to do a better job educating consumers about key nutritional information about those products in a clear and unambiguous way. "Some of the food companies instead," he told the paper, "are just going wink, wink."
SNEWS® View: If cereals can hit up TV and kid-centric advertising, why not water? And if food can make it simple, stupid (a.k.a. KISS), why couldn’t fitness manufacturers take some of the same concepts for promoting equipment and exercise, albeit less sensational ones puuu-leeze than some we now see on infomercials.