Mark Ritson on Branding: Great Brands Can Afford Elitist Touch

Marketing, August 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Mark Ritson on Branding: Great Brands Can Afford Elitist Touch


David Gilmour felt the warm South Pacific breeze caress his shoulders as he followed through with the five-iron.

He watched his ball sail into a bright-blue sky and then land with a bounce onto the green of the second hole. It was 1992 and Gilmour had more than a great tee shot to feel good about. His luxurious eco-resort on a private island in the Fiji islands, The Wakaya Club, had become an international success in little under a year.

Another golfer caught his eye and Gilmour watched as the man took a long drink from a European bottled-water brand. How bizarre, he thought, to come to a place like Fiji, where the water is famously pure, and choose to drink a European brand instead of the better and more available local stuff. Inspired, Gilmour founded a production company and signed a 99-year deal with the Fijian government to tap an ancient aquifer on the main island of Viti Levu. He called his brand Fiji Water.

Gilmour made sure that his product was right. He had already made a fortune from gold mining, and when he found the Viti Levu aquifer he realised he had struck it rich again. The aquifer is enormous, measuring more than 17 miles wide and 400 feet deep. The water within it fell to earth as rain more than 450 years ago, ensuring that it predates the industrial revolution and all its polluting effects. Great brands start with quality, authenticity and a great story.

The brand also got its distribution right. Ignoring the traditional FMCG philosophy of maximal distribution, Fiji Water launched slowly and selectively in the US through exclusive outlets in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. The brand built its distribution not only on the basis of sales, but also in terms of brand and communication - especially during market entry. Fiji Water first appeared in New York, for example, on the menu at Jean-Georges, an elite restaurant in Manhattan. It was priced dollars 10 a litre and presented to diners in a solid-silver Fiji Water serving case. Great brands also begin with selective, on-premise distribution. Gravity and growth will eventually lead your brand to the supermarkets, but it can never happen the other way around.

Fiji Water didn't suffer pricing vertigo either. Ignore the economists who try to set rational limits on prices. Maybe these apply to commodities, but great brands are incomparably precious and should be priced accordingly. Thanks to the limited supplies at Viti Levu, the growing acclaim of the brand and its high-end distribution, Fiji Water was able to outprice its European competitors. …

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