By Max Rothman
You can buy Fred Water at the swanky Ace and Kimpton Hotels, but don’t muddle it with other upscale water brands. Founder and CEO Adam Gayner said that brands such as VOSS and Fiji, which market affordable luxury, aren’t his competition. They also peddle water, but they’re not Fred’s style.
“We reject that sort of positioning,” Gayner said.
Instead, Fred Water sits in a clear flask — a symbol of differentiation and rebellion. But even in that rebellion, there has been retrenchment: first associated with those high-end clients and with a handbag-wearing, accessorizing set of consumers, the company made the recent decision to reverse course and aim squarely toward 18 to 24-year-old males, especially skate punks and hipsters.
The new Fred focuses on three messages: what happened to the image of water, the flask’s compatibility with pockets and the push for endless refills.
Gayner said that consumers have been squeezed into two categories of water and neither of them allow for flexibility of personality.
“Right now, the only two choices are low-priced commodity water that doesn’t really say anything or luxury brands, which doesn’t really speak to sort of the general youth audience,” Gayner said.
He said that these two approaches have taken the fun out of water. Despite what some people may tell you, water is one of the few things humans need to survive. Yet, Gayner said that it’s become an industry with a gutted identity.
“Why can’t you love water?” he said. “It even sounds funny when you say that.”
Gayner believes that Fred Water can change this, and it starts with the image. Gayner and Ariel Broggi, the company’s co-founder, formerly worked for “thread,” an advertising agency that happens to rhyme with “Fred.” Even when the water was founded in 2007, the flask was always there. However, before a recent rebranding, the font, design and colors of the packaging included in a light blue color and had a more feminine look.
Then, about one year ago, Gayner said that he considered a possibility: after launching and working with the brand for so long, he may have lost some perspective. With his advertising background, he knew what he wanted the brand to become, but he wanted a new designer. He hired Alex Bogusky, a renowned designer and founding partner of advertising agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. With Bogusky’s help, Gayner and Broggi made Fred more generic. The front of the bottle reads: “water,” not “natural spring water.” The natural details are elsewhere. They traded the light blue for three colors: black, white and, occasionally, pocket-friendly denim.
On Fred Water’s website, there’s a page that talks about how pockets will always outnumber cup holders. This explains the company’s decision to go with a flask. It’s a style that doesn’t fit with a predetermined shape, kind of like the brand’s desired consumer base.
“There’s an inherent edge and rebellion inside of Fred,” Gayner said.
The rebellion leaks into the company’s marketing efforts. Gayner said that Fred Water encourages its consumers to keep the flask and refill it with tap water. This message is reinforced with the slogan “Refillable & Recyclable,” which adds their own suggestion to an environmental institution.
While this could initially limit sales and may not seem like the right play for a company still solidifying its footing in the industry, Gayner said that he’s happy when people are drinking water, even if it’s tap water. At best, consumers are doing so with a Fred Water flask, identifying with the brand. He said that it’s “almost heresy” to oppose tap water.
“It doesn’t seem logical that a company that sells water would want you to refill this bottle with tap,” Gayner said. “But, in fact, you should.”
Bogusky told Gayner and Broggi to fully embrace the flask — it’s a style that may not relate to the 35-year-old yoga mom, but it could connect with 18 to 24-year-old males. Gayner said that the bottle isn’t as polarizing with young people who see the similarity to a traditional flask, which has an edginess because of its association with alcohol, long known as an indication of trouble.
This explains Fred Water’s affiliation with skateboarders, as evidenced by the Fred Water skatepark in Carlsbad, Calif., a resort city between Los Angeles and San Diego. Formerly sponsored by Monster, the skatepark is owned by Transworld, the skateboarding magazine. Gayner said that pro skateboarding teams stop by every few weeks and Fred Water is served. Even Lil Wayne stopped by and drank some Fred, he said.
Skateboarding has clearly become a key part of the water’s branding, however this demographic isn’t wide enough to support a company with national ambitions. That’s where the shelf placements come into play.
On Oct. 16, the company announced that it has partnered with CST Brands, Inc. and Kroger. This will bring Fred Water to 13 major U.S. cities via 2,000 additional locations, with a focus on Texas, Colorado, Northern California, New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana. Stores within the Kroger family that will carry Fred Water include City Market, King Soopers, QFC and Fred Meyer. Fred Water also secured distribution in Kum & Go stores. Gayner said that because of the flask’s ability to easily fit into pockets, his company serves as a nice partner for these convenience store locations that strive for portable products.
“It’s ultimately one of the best channels for our product,” Gayner said.
Fred Water is picking a fight with the rest of the water industry. There’s luxury water, there’s commodity, but Gayner said that there can also something different. He compared it to Converse and Levi’s, cool and American. Gayner has a goal in the next two years: like the Nike swoosh, when someone sees Fred Water’s “F,” they know what it’s in the bottle.