In this episode, Nico and Chad talk about the Canadian brand that managed to break through into the US market, then had a decline, and a pretty interesting comeback story. Today’s topic – Clearly Canadian, a company producing bottled water that was extremely huge in the 90s and has a strong nostalgic value to it.
It’s hard to find someone over 30 who doesn’t remember Clearly Canadian!
Originally founded in 1987 in British Columbia, Clearly Canadian is considered by many people to be the first Premium “new age beverage”. Some people credit Clearly Canadian with single-handedly launching the multi-billion dollar flavored water market that exists today.
Clearly Canadian moved south of the border into the US just as the 90s began, and took off
The brand’s signature “teardrop” shaped blue-tinted glass bottle was iconic, the bold fruit images on the front communicated natural and healthy.
The original ingredients list included only spring water, natural “vegan” flavors, and cane sugar.
It was ahead of its time in anticipating the natural beverage trend. It also became ubiquitous culturally… through the early 90s Clearly Canadian was featured in Television shows and movies including Sex and the city, Seinfeld (it was kind of Jerry’s signature drink on the show), Dawson’s Creek, Beverly Hills 90210, and many others.
By 1995 Clearly Canadian had yearly revenue of over $150 Million. It was on the brink of becoming a mega-brand. Here is the commercial from the brand’s peak times.
Then it seemed that just as quickly as Clearly Canadian had appeared on the market. It vanished. It was gone. You just couldn’t find it anymore, anywhere. Customers were frustrated – after all Clearly Canadian had a huge and loyal fan base.
And even investors and stockholders were in the dark. The brand just seemed to disappear.
To sum it up – t’s a very simple story of corporate mismanagement. As the brand grew so did the opportunity to find efficiency and attempts to make more profit from it. Leadership’s eyes get bigger – and shortcuts get taken.
Sometimes what you lose in the middle, is the core of the brand. Throughout the late 90s and into the early 2000s, the Clearly Canadian timeline is a series of missteps: hostile takeovers of other brands, acquisitions, and questionable product decisions.
If you want to pin it on one factor – some people have blamed one choice more than any other for the fall of Clearly Canadian: plastic bottles. To beverage consumers, the feel of a bottle is integral to the product and Clearly Canadian’s blue-tinted glass bottles signaled premium, quality, and natural.
By the early 2000s, the brand was limping along, and management was trying to figure out how to bring it back. They tried diet flavors, energy SKUs, but nothing worked.
In 2001 the original founders left and the company limped along for a decade with sales continuing to decline. In 2010 and 2011, for the first time since 1987, Clearly Canadian did not make a single bottle. It seemed that Clearly Canadian was dead. But, as we’ve learned from previous episodes on Polaroid, and PBR, never underestimate the power of nostalgia.
The return of Clearly Canadian
In 2012, Clearly Canadian was purchased by a firm with a history of turning around CPG brands. A new leadership team was formed, and a strategy was hatched to bring Clearly Canadian back to life. The new Clearly Canadian leaned into their loyal fan base (now older, with a bit of money to spend) to help them resurrect the brand. Going direct to their fans for funding helped the company stay true to the brand’s original ethos. The very trap the original owners had fallen into, of confusing the brand.
Instead of going to investors for funding, they launched a crowd-funding campaign on their website at clearlycandadian.com where they invited people to pre-order cases of the beverage with the promise that if they sold 25,000 cases, at $29.99 each, they would re-launch the company. In less than 2 months, over 12 thousand people responded, and they beat their goal – selling 30 thousand cases in that first push.
The power of Nostalgia Marketing
Clearly Canadian’s comeback is a lesson in what people have started to call Nostalgia Marketing that is tapping into positive memories from previous decades to drive modern campaigns. Numerous brands – even those who didn’t go under in the ensuing years, have learned that nostalgia marketing is powerful including Coca-cola, Microsoft, Lego, Herbal Essences – they all have all stepped back in time to harness the power of nostalgia.
Why is it so powerful, and why are Boomers and GenX so ripe for nostalgia marketing?
Even before COVID 19, there was reason to be nostalgic. With political turmoil, climate crisis, and ever-increasing economic pressures, it’s comforting to remember a time when things felt simpler. That’s one of the reasons why shows like Stranger Things resonate so deeply.
And there’s never been a better, more powerful tool for harnessing the power of nostalgia, than social media (example – Facebook Memories). Brands that can grab hold of that power emotional identification, can short-circuit your decision-making process and get right to the core of all your feelings. As a marketer or brand-builder – it’s worthwhile asking yourself what opportunities exist with your brand or client to tap into that emotional well and bring those past associations to bear on present behaviors.
Clearly Canadian – will they make it? It’s yet to be seen.
As for now, you can buy the iconic bottles, with the original flavor lineup: Mountain Blueberry, Country Raspberry, Clearly Sparkling, Wild Cherry, and Orchard Peach, in select stores including World Market, and on their website at ClearlyCandadian.com.
Enjoy the show!
We speak about:
[3:40] Beverages market in the early 2000s, today, and early 90s.
[5:40] History of Clearly Canadian and it is the first so-called ‘new age beverage’
[7:20] Peak and decline of Clearly Canadian
[13:20] New strategy
[17:30] The power of nostalgia marketing
[20:30] What can be learned