Trade Talk: Mark Wickens

Related tags Soft drinks Coca-cola Alcoholic beverage

Mark Wickens, chairman and creative partner of Brandhouse WTS on the potential for soft drinks brands in the on-trade.I believe there is a real...

Mark Wickens, chairman and creative partner of Brandhouse WTS on the potential for soft drinks brands in the on-trade.

I believe there is a real opportunity for drinks manufacturers to produce more sophisticated, adult soft drinks brands for the on-trade.

Soft drinks manufacturers have worked to develop and diversify other areas of the market, creating new sectors. One example is the health category, where we've seen a proliferation of isotonic and sports drinks. But few seem to have addressed the on-trade. More often than not a soft drink in a pub consists of either a watery on-tap cola or a small bottle of fruit juice. Most attempts to produce alcohol-free products for the adult market have resulted in non-alcoholic soft drinks which try to look like alcohol and here they hit the credibility problem.

One problem any drink in the on-trade faces is that of visibility, the product needs to be seen on the back or front bar. But soft drinks will typically be stored below the back-bar in a fridge - and will quite likely have someone standing in front of them most of the time. And soft drinks that are on the front bar are stored in a gun format, with no visible branding.

Therefore, to make a real impact an adult soft drink must have its own, strong and unapologetic brand identity. In addition, the brand should have exceptionally stylish brand communication, delivered through bar counter mounts, posters, A-frames and washroom promotions - just like beer brands.

The brand must be "cool" enough to make those drinking it, particularly men, feel comfortable ordering it.

So what should this new brand look and feel like? Firstly we need to consider the varied situations and ways people use bars, and what influences them to choose soft drinks.

Lunchtime drinking patterns vary from early evening, which in turn are different from mid or late-evening drinking.

Groups of men will drink differently from women or mixed groups. Women are big consumers of flavoured waters, but many men still feel that soft drinks or alcohol-free substitutes are "un-cool".

We have to understand how these consumers want to feel when they're in the pub in order to develop a product that will appeal to them.

To stand out, a brand must have a very strong resonance with its target audience - it must have a clear brand story. This story will be based on particular attributes.

For example, our adult soft drink could be made from the very best, and therefore probably expensive, ingredients, which would give it a premium price and clearly position it as an adult beverage, setting it apart from other soft drinks which are mainly targeted at teenagers. In addition, lessons can be learned from other consumer products when re-inventing a brand. The male cosmetics industry has been modernised in recent years and could offer some clues into the psyche of today's modern man. Another attribute could be that of functionality. As consumers, we expect more from our products today - we want them to have an effect on us. It is not enough for bath salts to smell nice, they have to invigorate us or heal our sore muscles. So perhaps there is a niche for a new feminine indulgence drink - or a masculine energy drink, that just happens to also be non-alcoholic.

Whatever the name, taste and effect, I believe that the adult drinking public wants and needs a viable and attractive alternative to the current soft drink offering. This new drink doesn't have to be a last resort, when drinking alcohol would be inappropriate, but a product people will choose to drink for its own value.

Brandhouse WTS has worked across most soft drink categories and with brands such as Tango, Robinsons, Fruitshoot, Diet Coke and Del Monte.

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