The Skinny on Nutrisoda

The idea: As the saying goes, the only dumb question is the one not asked. Still, the folks at Ardea Beverages probably felt silly posing this one to people sampling Nutrisoda, its sugar-free, carbonated soft drink with functional benefits: “Does my drink look fat in this can?” But the insight they got—an odd, resounding “Yes”—is the type that rarely reveals itself through research, which has a tendency to steer, generalize, validate or obfuscate.

The  story: OK, so they didn’t ask that exact question, but that was the conclusion—solid colors on soda cans say “sugar-laden” to consumers.  We’ll explore that more later. When PepsiAmericas (Ardea is is a wholly owned subsidiary of PepsiAmericas, the largest Pepsi bottler in the world) purchased Nutrisoda in 2006, it was positioned as a functional drink. The three years since, the brand has under-performed, so full-service agency Hunt Adkins, Minneapolis, was brought in to assess everything from the brand’s positioning to the drink’s taste. Most elements were right on the money. But the can needed to be kicked.

The process: About 50 designs were whittled down to half a dozen silver, white and black can concepts, which were shown to focus groups. The favorite can had brightly colored circles, but the researchers smartly asked a follow-up question. “The colored dots signified ‘fattening’ to people,” said Patrick Hunt, co-owner and president of Hunt Adkins, who reminded that the original cans were solid oranges, blues and greens, i.e. virtual sugar vessels. Silver was chosen as the can’s color because the shade says, “svelte,” and takes hue cues from other diet sodas. “A white can conveyed too much of a medicinal feel and the black didn’t convey a diet message,” Hunt said. The can size was changed to drive exposure and perception. 8.4 oz. suggested an energy drink, so there were store-placement issues and customer confusion. “We thought, ‘Why not attach to the soda category?’” Hunt said.  “A 12-ounce can conveys soda.” Growing the can meant Nutrisoda could be adjacent to Coke and Pepsi. Bigger cans are also cheaper to produce because of the volume of PepsiAmericas’ business: The 12 ounce cans sell for 99 cents while the 8.4 ouncers were $1.79.

The results: In May, a five-month test began in San Diego and Minneapolis that  includes billboards, transit, beach umbrellas, door hangers and diorama ads. “When we went out originally, we didn’t know what people thought about our brand,” said Richard Wilson, president/general manager of Ardea, who hopes for 300 million views. “They were confused about the bottle. Now we have clear objectives. “

OLD DESIGN              
Can the can:
While the old can was skinny, it said “I make you fat.” While Nutrisoda is sugar-free, consumers perceived the energy-drink sizing and block of solid color as shorthand for “I’m loaded with sugar.”

In the can:
On the skinny 8.4 oz. cans, all type was given the same weight—there was no hierarchy of info. “Nutrisoda” is now the most prominent element with emphasis on the “soda” part. Each SKU’s functional benefit, (e.g., “Focus”) is highlighted, then flavors and nutrients. Circles mimic bubbles to play up the fizzy fun of carbonation.