When water is not just water: the branding of commodity products

I recently took my team out to the local restaurant to celebrate the win of an exceptionally difficult pitch. We are regulars there so we usually all get the business menu. When one of the teammates ordered her beverage, I was amused she settled for tea after the waiter told her he didn’t carry her brand of water. “Doesn’t water taste the same no matter what brand it is?” I asked. She replied in the most serious tone, “No, I just can’t drink anything other than Evian.”

I can’t tell Evian water from Henniez, Cristalp, or just about any tap waters out there. Even after years of partnership and sampling with our client Nestlé Waters. However it’s fascinating that a seemingly undifferentiated product like H2O can be perceived so differently from one consumer to the next.

So how exactly do you go about branding such undifferentiated, commodity products – be it water, wood, soap, sugar or bananas?

It is all about differentiation. And there are just as many ways to differentiate a commodity than there are bubbles in a glass of San Pellegrino.

It’s all about differentiation.


Origin is probably the most notable proposition. The mere associations of that origin can carry enough weight to give the product value. This is what makes Canadian wood “safe and modern”, Swiss electricity “reliable and clean”, and allows Czech artist Kirill Rudenko to sell canned air from cities around the world for $10.


With enough time and resources, re-naming is also a strategy worth considering. Go back a few years ago and think the “Dove is not soap” advertising campaign. While Dove possesses its own attributes, it managed to build a distinct positioning for itself, not just from other soaps, but from the entire soap category. You no longer wash your face with soap, you wash it with Dove!

You no longer wash your face with soap, you wash it with Dove!


Then there is packaging, a high-impact differentiator. Daddy, a French sugar brand recently introduced new biodegradable packaging derived from plant materials. Although the container costs more than what’s in it, the company hopes to appeal to a generation of conscious consumers and be recognized for that.

But what if there’s nothing different to bank on?

We recommend you make it up!

You drink Contrex to maintain – or achieve – a slim figure, while Perrier is the freshest water around and Badoit quenches the sophisticated. Or to my colleague, Evian is what helps you stay and feel young.

It all comes down to having a good creative communication campaign. Add a mascot or celebrity spokesperson to the mix and you’ve got the potential to turn the most undifferentiated commodity product into a relevant, durable, and unique brand. Ask us how we can give your product more value and how our team helped Chiquita sell more bananas.

Text credits: ARD / agi

Images credits: Evian / Kirill Rudenko / Sylvainbardin.blogspot.com

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