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Marketing’s Changemakers: Fiji Water on why it's donating $100,000 to female directors this awards season

Welcome to Marketing’s Changemakers, a new series from The Drum which will tell the stories of brands trying to change the world in ways both big and small. Here, Fiji Water's chief creative officer discusses its ‘One Sip Forward’ initiative, which aims to raise up to $100,000 for female directors this year.

Fiji’s signature square water bottles have become a staple at A-list events like the Golden Globes and SAG Awards in recent years, with celebrities like Steve Carrell and Jennifer Lopez taking time out of their red carpet photo ops to sip on the brand’s H2O.

It's no coincidence. Fiji has become the “official water” of a number of awards shows over the last 10 years in an attempt to position itself as the water of choice among Hollywood’s elite.

But ahead of this year’s awards season, Fiji knew things wouldn't be business as usual. With conversations around #MeToo dominating headlines and spurring the subsequent #TimesUp movement, an initiative penned by stars including Reese Witherspoon and Eva Longoria to fight sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and beyond, the premium water brand wanted to use its red carpet presence to show its support of women.

In the weeks leading up to the Golden Globes, the first major Hollywood awards show of the year, Fiji brainstormed how exactly it would go about this. The brand was wary of injecting itself into the #MeToo discussion, a place where a voice from corporate America might not be wholly welcomed. Darren Moran, chief creative officer at the in-house agency for Fiji’s parent company, The Wonderful Company, says he felt it was inappropriate for Fiji to be part of that conversation.

“We didn’t want it to be #UsToo, if you will,” he explains. “Quite frankly, it didn’t feel like we had the right role for that part of the discussion. A lot of brands insert themselves into conversations that they shouldn't be or in a way they shouldn't be, and they suffer for it, rightfully so.”

Instead, the brand decided to do something that would help women who work in entertainment achieve their goals and break through in an industry heavily dominated by men. Moran and his team landed on the idea of partnering with the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, a hands-on training program committed to increasing the number of women working professionally in screen directing.

In partnership, Fiji has pledged to donate up to $100,000 this awards season to female directors who are participating in the workshop. Each time a celeb poses for a red carpet with a bottle of Fiji water, the brand will donate $1,000 to the cause. The activity has been dubbed ‘One Sip Forward.’

“We’re not pretending that we’re going to change all of Hollywood ourselves,” says Moran of the initiative. “But we felt like we had a responsibility as a longtime citizen of awards shows to use our own brand and presence to help solve a problem.”

At the Golden Globes this year, celebrities including This Is Us star Mandy Moore, actress Amanda Peet and Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig all posed for photos with a bottle of the brand’s water to ensure a $1,000 donation would be made.

Moran says that stars were much more willing to have their photos taken by the brand this year than in years past since they knew their shot would support a good cause, noting that he was “blown away” to see that actress Gillian Anderson, unprompted, took to her own Twitter and Instagram accounts to post about the cause.

“We couldn’t have briefed her better. The response was fantastic,” says Moran. “In the past, we’d get a handful of celebrities who would be okay with us taking their picture and posting it. The outpouring was much bigger this time. The report from the red carpet is that celebrities are really into it.”

Fiji continued One Sip Forward at the Critics’ Choice Awards last week, and will also carry it out at the SAG Awards and Independent Spirit Awards in the coming months. In addition to on the ground support, Fiji also plans to use paid media and its own channels to showcase the work being done by the female directors participating in the Directing Workshop for Women.

Moran says the brand is currently in talks to expand the initiative past this year, but at the moment is focused on getting as many as A-listers as possible to sip and strike a pose.

Considering one of the biggest moments at this year’s Golden Globes occurred when Natalie Portman called out the “all-male” nominees for best director, One Sip Forward is surely a relevant cause — and one that Fiji feels it is aptly placed to address.

“The industry has been very good to us, working with Hollywood. We feel from a brand standpoint we’re part of that community in some small way, and so that’s where we felt somewhat of a responsibility,” he concludes.