Will Smith’s ‘ethical’ water brand lands in UK but he won't be brandished on its advertising

Will Smith in Boots for UK launch of Just Water

Will Smith’s ‘ethical’ brand Just Water has launched in the UK after inking a tie-up with Boots and Whole Foods. The chief executive tells The Drum why the firm is confident its offering will take off and why marketing won’t be focused on the celebrity-status of its founders.

The Just Water brand was launched by Will Smith and his son Jaden three years ago and has rapidly grown in the US, becoming the number-one-selling branded bottled water in its category at retailer Whole Foods.

The premise of the brand is relatively simple. In a market where the majority of bottled water comes in plastic packaging, its bottles are comprised of 82% renewable resources, made mostly of paper from sustainably-managed forests.

But beyond packaging, it has also sought to improve the economy around bottled water.

In the US this means sourcing it from Glens Falls in New York, and paying the local council six-times the municipal rate for spring water – money which is then reinvested back into the community.

“Water is the category that uses the most amount of plastic and could have the biggest impact if you provided an alternative,” the company’s chief executive Ira Laufer said.

“Due to the Smith involvement there’s a lot of global interest in the brand. If they go to an event or on tour or to a premier, this is the only water they carry. They’re getting seen with the bottle and we get emails about where to buy it. The market was demanding it and we had been approached by several retailers asking if we were planning to come to the UK.”

Aping the model from across the pond, Just Water will be sourced from the firm’s UK bottling partner in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, although it has yet to work out the commercial model that will be of benefit to the local community.

The launch has seen the product initially stocked in 800 Boots stores nationwide and all Whole Foods Market locations in the UK.

The firm aims to become the most prominent, well-recognised sustainable bottle of water in the UK, offering consumers an alternative to the default plastic packaging for water. No mean feat in a category estimated to be worth $190bn in 2016 and is expected to reach $342bn in 2022, according to a recently published report into the Global Markets for Bottled Water Products.

Marketing, then, is going to be priority but Laufer has stressed that people won’t see the Smith family gracing TV ads and OOH campaigns any time soon. Though playing up the fact the brand is founded by the famous family is an obvious route to being noticed in a heavily saturated market, doing so could detract from the message Just Water is trying to put out.

“We don’t want anyone to buy or sell our products because it’s founded by a famous person. When it comes to the Smith’s involvement it’s done in a very authentic way. You’d never see them aggressively promoting – we would never use them in such a way and they would never do it. What we’re doing is important but it’s for nothing if we can’t educate the consumer,” he said.

Much of its marketing strategy has been predicated on piggy-backing on the national news agenda and it’s no coincidence that the brand is launching in the UK the same year the government launched a review into single-use plastic.

“We let the media and news take control of the narrative. There’s a lot of awareness and attention on the issue in the UK right now and that’s been happening in the US for quite a while,” Laufer continued.

“We’re very focused on social media. That’s mostly where we communicate though we also do events and sponsorship.”

But in time that may change as it establishes a dedicated UK team.

Currently, all marketing and communications is being led from its US headquarters, however as the brand grows it will look to hire marketing talent across the pond.

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