By now, you’ve probably heard of coconut water. Gracing the pages of celebrity magazines in the hands of Hollywood stars and fitness icons, and taking over the aisles of your local grocery store, the beverage is quite a hot commodity.

Derived from the insides of young coconuts, the clear, slightly sweet liquid provides natural rehydration rich in electrolytes and includes as much potassium as a banana.

If you have yet to taste coconut water, you’re not alone. The category, which entered the U.S. beverage industry in 2004, is still a toddler. Coconut water’s international roots trace much further back, however – millennia, by some accounts.

A popular drink in tropical regions around the globe for years, it’s enjoyed “like water or orange juice” in many Asian, Central and South American countries, according to Bill Lange, vice president of marketing for ZICO, The Coca-Cola Company’s only coconut water brand.

During World War II, the liquid was even given intravenously to hydrate the wounded when saline solution ran short because of its similar makeup to blood plasma. “There are roughly 85 countries that grow coconuts and, in those countries, coconut water is consumed throughout the day,” Lange explains. “It’s part of culture. It’s part of everyday life.”

Humble Beginnings

ZICO founder Mark Rampolla first discovered coconut water as a Peace Corps volunteer in Central America. An athlete and healthy living advocate, he saw the drink’s benefits as a golden opportunity to not only bring a wholesome, healthy product to the U.S., but to boost the economies of coconut-producing nations.

This mindset was not drastically different from some of ZICO’s relatives at Coca-Cola.

“Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman had a very clear vision of what he wanted to stand for,” Lange said. “Mark is very much the same way. He wanted to make a healthier America, he wanted to give back to developing countries, and he wanted to stand for something positive.”

Zico ad

Upon returning to the States, Rampolla hit the ground running in familiar startup fashion, launching ZICO in New York out of his garage and selling the product out of a rented van. The brand quickly took hold in yoga studios, with the community latching onto its rehydration and natural qualities.

“For the first six to seven years, it was really about the athletes. The yogis, ultra-marathoners, cyclists and triathletes really took hold,” Lange said. “Nature’s Sports Drink was our original tag line.”

A niche market, perhaps, but the coconut water category has seen an impressive spike in numbers. The industry has seen increased sales, nearly doubling its revenue every year since 2004. The category also has a higher percentage of multi-cultural volume than any other, and the second highest percentage of drinkers under 35 (second only to energy drinks).

The numbers alone were enough to grab the attention of Coca-Cola, which first invested in ZICO in 2009. In 2012, the company purchased a majority stake in ZICO through its Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) group. Earlier this year, the brand took its place on the signature red Coca-Cola trucks and is being distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“ZICO is an interesting proposition because the coconut water category is relatively new to the United States,” explains Darren Marshall, vice president of marketing for VEB. “For Coca-Cola – in this country – it’s known, it’s part of culture, it’s part of history. We’ve got to help consumers understand what ZICO is all about and build those rituals.”

Consumer education isn’t the only mountain to climb for the ZICO team. Reaching consumers will require standing out in the jam-packed horse race of the American coconut water category, which now includes more than 75 brands in the U.S. alone.

“We are never going to 'out-natural’ or 'out-energy’ another beverage category,” Lange said. “We wanted to make ZICO more relevant to a wider audience. We wanted to create something unique and ownable, while subtly communicating ZICO’s benefit.”

With The Coca-Cola Company’s size, strength and gusto behind them, the ZICO geared up to launch its first major marketing campaign. “Oomph” they’ve dubbed it, and it’s just now beginning to pick up speed.

“With the national launch with Coca-Cola in 2013, we knew this was the right time to expand our message and tell people what we’re about. With ‘Oomph’ and with Coke’s muscle, this is going to be a big year,” Lange said.

Coming Out of its Shell

Zico ad

Take a look at a list of popular brands, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many single-word slogans. Even fewer would be onomatopoeia.

But for the ZICO team, “Oomph” was exactly what they were looking for.

“It helps lighten the mood a little bit for the category,” Marshall said. “It’s not serious, it’s not technical. It’s whimsical, it’s fun.”

The 'Oomph' campaign, which launched in April, features moments of encouragement and humor served up by a cast of quirky characters. Through billboards, bus stops, telephone booths and a series of viral YouTube shorts, 'Oomph' transforms coconut water into your awkwardly intense little league coach, the overly extreme spin instructor at the gym and even your grandmother – because inspiration can come in all shapes and sizes.

In short, "Oomph" is “a pep talk with a smile,” says the team.

“It’s not in the dictionary, but people understand what it is,” Marshall explained. “Talk about ‘Oomph’ and they know it’s lift, it’s a boost… it’s picking up the pace a little bit.”

For a product heavily marketed to fitness gurus and athletes, an approachable personality was a must. The ZICO team needed to create an identity likeable to the average consumer while still communicating coconut water’s benefit. In essence, ZICO wanted to appeal to the “try”-athlete, in addition to the triathlete.

"Try-athletes are people who believe in healthy living and see the benefits of an active lifestyle,” Lange explains. “They may never want to compete or cross the finish line, but they understand the importance and want to do better.”

To “try” athletes, coconut water may have seemed out of reach – too exclusive or high-entry to purchase on a normal grocery store trip. The new campaign breaks down that barrier, boiling coconut water down to the simple fact that everyone needs a little “Oomph” once in a while.

“’Oomph’ was created to articulate a personality and talk about the benefit, and to do that in a way that was rooted in sport, but not dedicated to sport,” Marshall said. “Whether you’re in mile 22 of your marathon or a late night at the office, ZICO brings you that little bit of Oomph to make it through.”