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Posted on Wed 25th Feb, 2015 in: Industry Comment, Influence, Public Relations by Emma Lister

In my last blog post I discussed how we should expect to see some of the world's largest juice drinks brands team together to fight back against the recent 'sugar scrutiny'. In this piece, I'll be looking at what the whole soft drinks sector is doing to fight back, in terms of new product developments, to attract a changing audience, and how this is or isn't being reflected in communications. The sector is recognising the need for innovation and improvements to their products to appeal to those health-conscious consumers who once sought the sugary alternatives. These consumers are now looking to be inspired to experiment with new flavours and concoctions, without the worry of the unnecessary calories or their increasing sugar intake. Innovation has been a dominant trend across the sector, in terms of the launch of new products with functional ingredients and additional health benefits. But are exciting communications campaigns also at the forefront of these brands' business strategies? Vimto, for example, is focusing on its No Added Sugar ranges, including its No Added Sugar Sportscap Multipack. With this new product range the brand has introduced 'Vimtoad,' a branded animated toad, voiced by stand-up comedian Justin Moorhouse. It's a £6.5m campaign which aims to appeal to mums as well as teens, by entertaining and engaging with them to highlight its new NPD with healthier credentials. The campaign includes a Vimtoad twitter account, which has given the new brand mascot a channel, and an app that allows consumers to 'mix up' their appearance and 'Vimtoad' themselves, alongside a series of social media competitions. Vimto has responded to a need for NPD, but knew that without a brand refresh, it wouldn't reach and influence its new, extended target audience of mums. Yazoo, the milk drink producer, has also invested heavily in promoting its new 'healthier' range. The brand has spent £3m on its 'Unbelievably Smooth' campaign to launch its new yoghurt smoothie, which includes vitamin B2, calcium and protein ingredients. As well as advertising, the launch has included store activation and a social media campaign. It has focused on telling a family narrative based around 'tall tales' which combines real life footage with animation. Red Bull, on the other hand, has taken a slightly more laidback approach in launching its Zero Calories range. In the UK it simply planned a series of above the line advertising campaigns, and there was little sign of a specific communications campaign to support it. Red Bull's communications strategy is very much about promoting the brand, and not geared towards promoting individual products. But now is an important time to be highlighting zero calorie drinks, according to The Grocer's latest soft drinks guide. The latest soft drinks report by the magazine argues that competition in the sector will only increase. James Logan, commercial director of Refresco Gerber, a market leading juice manufacturer said, "The move away from sugar will continue to be key, with aHi trend towards more reduced sugar products - media attention and industry commitment to lowering sugar in juices, juice drinks and soft drinks will result in reduced sugar versions of well-known drinks and new products."? As well as Zero Calories, Red Bull's portfolio also includes a sugar free range and a series of flavoured products known as 'Editions.' Whilst the company is clearly adapting to meet the needs of different consumers, it's questionable whether each product will get the exposure it needs to be successful, without a communications plan in place.   Red-Bull-680x365 NPD innovation is key for brands to stay ahead of the curve, but it should also be reflected in their communications strategies. Vimto has credited its Vimtoad campaign as the reason behind it increasing sales by 6.3 per cent and outperforming the market. This demonstrates that PR and marketing activity can really make a difference, especially when changing perceptions and getting health-conscious consumers on-side.

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