Click to Quench

by Jennifer Korolishin
Best beverage Web sites focus on the consumer, extend the brand
As is the case with virtually all consumer goods, a product, brand or manufacturer Web site is a de rigueur part of the marketing plan. These days, not having a Web site is simply not done. Beverage manufacturers are no different, using the Internet to attract new customers and to target specific consumer audiences.
Beverage industry Internet sites range from silly to serious, but one question looms large for all manufacturers — “what do consumers want from my Web site?” In building their sites, beverage manufacturers must carefully evaluate their marketing needs and strike a balance between consumer appeal and corporate information.
“I see a struggle on the beverage sites — are they corporate sites or are they product sites?” says Don Barshinger, president and executive creative director for the Chicago-based business-to-business marketing agency Slack Barshinger. “If you have multiple brands with different images targeted to different audiences, how do you handle that on the site? The Coke site, for example, looks like it’s a very well-branded site. But after a nice Flash intro, it turns into a very corporate site. The products and promotions are there, but you need to search for them. However, on the Pepsi site, [the brand information] is right up front and has a very clear, fun, lively image.”
One brand with a well-defined purpose and a clear target audience is Absolut Vodka. A longtime leader in innovative advertising and marketing, the brand has a distinct online presence aimed at male and female premium spirits consumers ages 21 to 40 who are “youthful in mind, active, outgoing, sociable, somewhat trend-conscious and fashionable,” according to Patrik Persson, Internet communications manager at the Stockholm-based V&S Absolut Spirits.
While the Absolut site includes corporate information, its primary focus is on consumers, whose preferences and feedback help drive the site’s content development. First launched in 1996 as a series of experimental sites focused on the art, music and fashion concepts depicted in Absolut’s print ads, the site is now into what the manufacturer refers to as “ 2.0”; today’s site features drink recipes, contests and exclusive previews of ad campaigns.
Allowing consumers to interact with the brand is central to Absolut’s Web strategy. This is particularly evident on its new Absolut Raspberri site. Visitors can create their own Absolut-themed artwork based on the ad campaign created for the new brand by artists Maya Hayuk and Kenji Hirata. Additionally, the site features a sweepstakes with prizes including signed Absolut ads, limited-edition poster reprints and a personalized drink book branded with the winner’s name.
“The site is constantly evolving,” says Persson. “The difference between versions 1.0 and 2.0 is the layout design, which is more up-to-date, and we put more emphasis on the functionality without losing the experimental and the experience side of the site.”
FineWaters is another site that has a specific and unique mission as “the definitive voice for water connoisseurs.” Michael Mascha, a food anthropologist and culinary expert, launched in 2003 after a medical condition forced him to give up drinking wine.
“I focused my epicurean curiosity, now that the wine is gone, on the next beverage you usually have on the table — water,” Mascha says. “Water is considered in most parts to be a commodity. You don’t typically think that water has a story attached to it, tastes very different and can be used almost the same way as wine, being more integrated into a meal and matched with food.”
Mascha built the site as a way to disseminate consumer information after discovering that most bottled water Web sites are geared toward a business-to-business audience. It features information on hundreds of bottled water brands, as well as tips on pairing water with food, the proper temperature at which water should be consumed and the best glass and stemware to use to enhance the experience.
“I think it was really important for me to take a bottom-up approach with the site, really focusing on one thing very narrowly, which is bottled water, to provide people with as much information as possible about the product itself,” says Mascha.
While Absolut and FineWaters focus on one beverage type or brand, many manufacturers with multiple brands face a dilemma in their online promotional efforts — which brand should be highlighted on the front page? Barshinger notes that this is especially true for cola and beer manufacturer sites, which target specific demographics for each brand. In some cases, the manufacturer rotates which brands are featured or launches a related, but separate, site for a particular brand.
Every beverage brand targets a specific audience, but in general, the appeal of beverage Web sites tends to skew toward younger, more Web-savvy audiences.
“On the Miller site, for example, their first screen is a rock-and-roll-related promotion that they’re running, which is definitely geared toward a younger crowd,” says Barshinger. “I think what audience they’re going for really depends on the demographics of that particular brand. Gatorade, for example, is a very strong, young, active, sports-oriented Web site and that’s because that’s the Gatorade brand image. On the Anheuser-Busch site, it’s a lot more traditional both in the look and the feel and the content of it.”
In terms of top sites, Barshinger puts Gatorade and Pepsi at the head of his list, citing Gatorade as a “very marketing-savvy brand” that knows its audience, has a consistent image through all communication channels and features engaging information on its site. He calls the Pepsi site “fun and playful” and points to its Flash introduction as a site highlight, because it is visually interesting but doesn’t interfere with the site’s navigation.
“The reason those two stand out is that the brand imagery that’s been created has played out incredibly faithfully on the Web site,” says Barshinger. “You go to those Web sites and you say, ‘Yup, that is Pepsi or yup, that is Gatorade’. The idea is that everything you do needs to be an extension of your brand, and those two Web sites clearly do that.” BI