Annual bottled water consumption in the U.S. surpassed annual consumption of soda for the first time in 2016. But it turns out people don’t just want water in their water because what’s known as the “enhanced water” category grew 9.2% in volume and 8.7% in sales in 2017. Brands like SmartWater, Vitaminwater, and Propel, which add in various flavors, vitamins, and electrolytes, are taking advantage of the market that lives between sugary sports drinks and plain ole’ H2O.
Pepsico’s Propel has seen double-digit sales growth over the last three years, using a mix of traditional advertising, strategic placement in gyms and fitness centers, and working with influencers in such popular fitness niches as spin, yoga, and cross-fit. But in a new campaign, Propel is aiming to differentiate from the competition by making its sports-related ties to its corporate sibling Gatorade explicitly clear. It’s all in the new tagline, “How Gatorade does water.”
Competitors like SmartWater and even Pepsico’s own Lifewtr (launched in 2017) contain electrolytes–essentially a mix of calcium, potassium, and magnesium–for taste, while Propel brand director Laura Barnett says what makes Propel different is that it has the same amount of electrolytes as Gatorade.
“What’s unique about it is it’s engineered and created by Gatorade, and utilizes Gatorade’s expertise and past in hydration,” says Barnett. “We want to make sure exercisers know the science behind our product.”
The contentious actual science of sports drinks aside, the idea of scientific benefits is a big part of Gatorade, and now Propel’s, marketing strategy. We’re not quite in Brawndo territory, but it’s not far off.
Another element of the campaign is Propel’s Co:Labs Fitness Festival tour. Set for this summer with stops in L.A., Miami, New York, and Chicago, the festival will be a mash-up of exercise enthusiasts taking mass classes with celebrity instructors and live music from Ludacris, Wyclef Jean, Yuna, Daya, Icona Pop, and others. Also on hand, of course, will be the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, testing attendees’ sweat levels and advising on hydration.
Pepsico’s branded cross-pollination here should come as no surprise, as the company has plenty of recent examples of how it’s used brand partnerships, both internal and external, to create a marketing halo. Witness the company’s combination Doritos and Mountain Dew Super Bowl ad, starring Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. Or its Doritos Tacos Locos at Taco Bell. Or Cheetos Chicken Fries at Burger King. So hitching Propel to the Gatorade electrolytes hype train makes total sense—just as long as we remember it’s not what plants need.