In the red corner we have Glaceau Vitamin Water, bought by Coke last year for, wait for it, $4.1 billion. In cash. Founder and CEO J. Darius Bikoff is a very clever and now very rich chap.
In the blue corner we have V Water, launched in the UK in 2005, but bought in May this year by Pepsi.
So, who will come out on top, assuming the UK consumer and retail trade really don't need 2 almost identical vitamin water brands? I'll have a stab here at reviewing their mixes. Please do join in and add a comment at the bottom on about who you think will win.
1. Brand name
Why do drink brands copy each others names? In sports drinks we have PowerADE, GatorADE and LucozADE. Now we have V Water and Vitamin Water.
I think Vitamin Water has the edge here, as it has a brand behind it called Glaceau. More could be made of Glaceau, as the brand is not very visible on the pack. But there is potential there to load it with more content than the very generic V Water brand.
Winner: Glaceau Vitamin Water
Structurally the same, looking like they came from the same supplier. On graphics, I think Vitamin Water have made more use of their label as a comms. channel: what we call "packvertising". The text is bit innocent-like and chatty, though it tries much harder. Perhaps too hard, so lacks some of the charm. Also, some people have said the pack look "medical".
In contrast, V Water is very simple, but feels rather pale, and empty as a result. Almost anemic.
Both basically the same: water and vitamin pills in a bottle. No real difference in product-truth or story. Both are relatively new brands, and don't make a big story about their origins or manufacturing process.
The ranges are also pretty close, though there seems to be a bit less overlap in the V Water range. And as the drinks are by nature very water-y, there is not much difference in taste. I do find them a bit artificial and chemical tasting...
And not as healthy as you might think. The Vitamin Water I tasted had in it 23% of my daily allowance of sugar!
4. Marketing muscle
This is a big issue, and perhaps what will decide the winner. Who is prepared to invest more in marketing, especially distribution and point-of-sale to become THE vitamin water. This includes both supermarket and out-of-home presence, such as the Vitamin Water display I saw in my local newsagent, placed for free by the Coke sales force.
Both brands are backed by the big boys of beverages. But, an important difference is that Coke have blown $4billion on their new toy and have global ambitions. In contrast, V Water is UK only, and so less of a priority for Pepsi.
Winner: Glaceau Vitamin Water
This is where the biggest visible difference is. Glaceau Vitamin Water plays up that it is a US hit, now over in the UK. In the US, pop stars Kelly Clarkson and 50 Cent have been sponsored by the brand. Sports stars like basketball player Lebron James have also featured in ads.
Vitamin Water also has a quirky website, with wacky photography. Two features I liked were the changing messages as the site loads (e.g. "We'll spare you the cheesy music"; "Good things come to those who wait"), and the way the site displays the time you arrive and an appropriate version to try (note: checked back this morning, and got the same product! So not as good as I thought).
V Water in contrast is much more relaxed and friendly. The site is cleaner, whiter and uses little cartoons. But as a result it feels a bit washed out. Its trying much less harder to be cool, and trying to let the product do the talking.
Which brand has got it right? This depends a lot on where the biggest opportunity is for this product category. Who will buy the stuff? My guess is 30-40, health conscious, urban people. More female than male. And in this case, V Water might work better. Glaceau Vitamin Water's may be too teen-like to appeal to this target. And I can't see teens drinking a lot of vitamin water.
Winner: V Water
So, net I do come down in the camp of Glaceau Vitamin Water, as they win narrowly 2-1 in my shoot-out. I think the marketing muscle point will be what decides it. But what do you think?
We'll check back in a year's time for an update!