Battle of water ads to power Super Bowl's lineup

By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — The Super Bowl battle of beverages between PepsiCo (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO) will feature ads for their growing non-carbonated drinks.

Coke will make its biggest appearance in recent years with three minutes of ad time that includes one with NBA star Shaquille O’Neal for Vitaminwater. Pepsi’s lineup will include promotion for a low-calorie Gatorade called G2, featuring New York Yankee Derek Jeter. Pepsi also is expected to run ads for energy drink Amp and SoBe LifeWater.

Backing such new-generation drinks with ad time costing up to $2.7 million for 30 seconds reflects the hot competition in sports, energy and enhanced water drinks and how the beverage giants are looking to them for sales growth.

“It’s the right thing to do, because it’s what people are drinking today,” says Rohan Oza, Glacéau senior vice president, marketing. “We’re excited to have what we think is our biggest ad to date on the biggest stage in the world with one of the greatest players in NBA history.”

According to trade journal Beverage Digest, enhanced and fortified water sales rose 32% in the first nine months of 2007, energy drinks rose 38% and sports drinks rose 2%, Meanwhile, carbonated drinks shrank 6% in the period.

O’Neal, a Vitaminwater drinker, came up with the idea to be a jockey in a Super Bowl ad after hearing that Glacéau founder Mike Repole owned horses. He thinks he’ll win the race for ad impact with the more than 90 million viewers expected.

“I’m a big fan of Super Bowl, and I’m a bigger fan of the commercials,” O’Neal said in a phone interview from Miami. “I put my house on the line that people are going to remember a 7-1, 321-pound basketball player riding a horse.”

O’Neal actually rides the horse (with a few shots using some effects) and wins because Vitaminwater Power-C gives him energy. Rival Gatorade is called “Old Man Gator” by the race announcer.

“People are always going to have their favorite beverage,” O’Neal says. “But when it comes to marketing, we can be more edgy than other companies.”

Coke also will advertise Coke Classic with at least one 60-second ad in which parade mascots battle over a Coke. It is considering a Coke ad featuring former GOP Senate leader Bill Frist and Democratic operative James Carville. Coke Zero also may get an ad.