Owner of the locally based bottled water company Liquid Salvation, Chris “Reverend” Warner, injects some hip into a relatively bland market
The assignment: Write a story about the new local bottled water company, Liquid Salvation. I’d seen the haloed devilish pinup girl logo on the bottle, which clearly resembles a vodka flask. But this is just water, right? I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I asked a friend to check out their Web site. She didn’t get it.
“It’s water, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s just water.”
“Well,” she said, “the logo’s cool.”
Liquid Salvation is water, but it’s cool water.
Liquid Salvation hit the market in May of this year with a splash. Their marketing campaign—which includes everything from sponsoring the hottest DJs, boxers, bands and skateboarders to hosting a dunk tank—is smart, stylish and sexy.
“We are the antithesis of corporate America,” said founder-owner Chris “Reverend” Warner. Some of his marketing ideas include going to “nightclubs and putting girls and go-go dancers in our ‘boy beaters’ (aka wife-beater tank tops).” Logoed thong underwear are already available, along with snowboard- and skate-park-favored hoodies. All of it can be checked out at www.liquid-salvation.com. This ain’t your corporate deer-at-a-stream water company. This is water with an attitude. And why not?
“If you’re going to drink any water, why not something that reflects some personality?” Warner asked. “No one else is doing that.”
He’s right. Where soft drink manufacturers have been hyping the hip lifestyle associated with consuming their products for years, no one has marketed bottled water with an edge, until now. And this could turn out to be a far more lucrative move than is initially obvious.
According to a May 2003 press release from Beverage Marketing Corporation: “If current trends continue, with bottled water growing strong and carbonated soft drinks moving slowly, bottled water could overtake soft drinks by the end of next decade.”
The document goes on to state that “with little or no advertising, especially compared to other beverage types, consumers are selecting bottled water.” Indeed, they are. Between 2001 and 2002, revenue in the U.S. bottled water market increased by 11.9 percent with $7.7 billion in sales. Unlike other beverages, there’s not much in the way of distinguishing taste; consumers generally aren’t going to purchase a brand based on ingredients or flavor.
“Water is water. How much more generic can you get?” said Gil Gaus, Salvation’s creative director. “It’s strictly packaging an image that’s the difference here.”
And he means this literally. Salvation’s water, bottled by one of the largest private-label bottled water companies in the United States, is identical to that which is found in many of the competitors’ bottles. The difference lies in the presentation—the flask shape of the bottle and the pinup girl on its label—which can be attributed to Warner because, as Gaus said, “Chris’s personality sells the water.”
Warner is a presence. Tall, athletic and charismatic, he is as energetic as he is friendly. A former world-class athlete, having competed on the U.S. Track and Field Team in the Decathlon and on the U.S. Bobsled Team and having worked for 10 years in Hollywood as a stuntman and actor, Warner, 39, has phenomenal stamina and drive.
When asked about his move from the bright lights of the entertainment industry to bottled water life in Reno, Warner said he was tired of intentionally falling down stairs and being thrown through windows.
“I was also tired of the instability of working in the entertainment industry and wanted to get out of L.A. I had this idea for a bottled water company. … A couple years ago, I was with some buddies at a pub in London and in the wee hours of the night, in what could best be described as a hydration revelation, it just came to me.”
So Warner packed up and moved to Reno, which, geographically, reminded him of his New Mexico upbringing and, with its proximity to Tahoe and the Sierra, seemed the perfect place to launch his water company. It’s also where he met his wife, Hiedy Warner, who is an integral part of this equation, as are the other people in Warner’s company. Chris met Hiedy in February.
“I was at the Eldorado. I saw this tall blonde from across the room and had to go up and say something. And she tells me she’s a firefighter, and I said, ‘Well, OK, you put out fires, I sell water. I see some synergy here.’ “
Now married, they’re a dynamic duo. When she’s not fighting fires as a member of the Reno Fire Department, Hiedy acts as the company’s spokes-model and is involved in sales, promotions, marketing, clothing design and more. Gaus’ abilities as creative director and his background are no less impressive. Once a Madison Avenue-dwelling ad executive for the second largest advertising agency in the world, he has just the experience, creativity and sense of style needed to develop Salvation’s critically important image.
Liquid Salvation is not without its critics. Some have taken offense to the sexy she-devil logo.
“To me it’s just an intriguing image,” Gaus said. “This is a ‘30s pinup girl, and it’s a caricature with a halo. It isn’t that sexy. It isn’t that provocative compared to what’s out there. If people choose to have a problem with it, that’s OK. With this, we’re trying to create interest. If you’re upset, fine. If you’re happy, fine. We don’t care. You’re at least something. … We don’t have to please everybody.”
That isn’t to say they don’t listen; they just aren’t going to sell their soul.
“If there is something in there that has consistently been called on, I would say, ‘Yeah, let’s change it, but let’s change it to something that is still interesting or funny or whatever it is. Let’s not take the heart out of it.’ “
This seems to be exactly what they are doing to derail the other primary criticism they’ve received: that their bottle resembles a vodka container.
“The intention with the flask was to make it portable, not because it looked like alcohol,” Warner clarified.
Regardless, the company is launching a new bottle design early next year to solve what they see as a more pressing issue, size. Their current bottle holds just 12.7 ounces. The new bottle will be a 1963 military-issue canteen. It will share features with the flask: portability and sleek packaging. Warner said he hopes it will diffuse some of the criticism that the water is packaged to look like alcohol.
“By going to a different shape, it just makes it that much better,” Warner said.
“We’re trying to increase positives, not fight the negatives,” Gaus added.
In the end, the story of Liquid Salvation boils down to a few simple truths: It’s water, it’s cool, and its cost is comparable to other bottled waters on the market. That’s all Warner and his associates may need to become the nationally recognized company they’re hoping for.
“As long as we’re providing premium quality water—it’s all mountain spring water—our emphasis is in the packaging and marketing, to be able to provide something that is portable, that goes wherever you go with a sense of style and attitude," Warner said. "All things being equal, which one are you going to choose?"