Brita is working with the Lawn Tennis Association to remove single-use water bottles from tournaments

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With the U.K.’s summer tennis season around the corner, water filter brand Brita is transitioning from ambush marketing to establishment partner.

During last year’s grass tournament at Wimbledon, the company and its integrated agency Iris launched a short paid social and radio campaign aimed at punching up, positioning its water filters and reusable bottles as the answer to consumer concerns over single-use plastics. The idea, said marketing manager Lily Rutherford, was to put clear distance between Brita and what she terms “big water” firms such as Highland Spring and Evian.

This time around, it’s joined the sporting establishment as the official water partner of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the organization that stages major tournaments such as Queen’s and Wimbledon, in the hope that it’s better for a brand to be inside the big tent than out. It’s the first time a non-single-use water brand has sponsored the sport in Britain.

The partnership, of which financial details were not available, will see Brita take center court as the LTA’s water provider at the Cinch Championships at The Queen’s Club and other major events this summer, excluding Wimbledon. Players will be drinking from Larq bottles (a Brita sister brand) and refilling them from Brita taps. For the first time, visitors won’t be able to buy single-use plastic bottled water at the event; they’ll be given a discount on reusable bottles supplied by Brita instead, or encouraged to bring their own. According to a statement from the LTA, that’ll mean 100,000 fewer bottles of water distributed at the event.

It also means the brand’s marketing team will have to take a different approach this summer. There’s less room in the budget for content, so the team have to make the partnership work for them. “Last year, we played around on social and poked fun. We don’t need to be doing that now because we have a seat at the table,” said Rutherford.

2023’s campaign played out via partnerships with influencers, paid social and radio (Rutherford didn’t share the precise breakdown) during Wimbledon. As well as drafting in Inbetweeners actor and influencer James Buckley for a 60-second video ad, Brita commissioned a white paper from research firm Retail Economics examining the links between sports partnerships and single-use water bottle sales, and embarked upon a partnership with Refill, a company that provides a free app with a map of places to refill a reusable bottle.

One of the radio ads starring Buckley, prompted the LTA’s sports partnership agency Rocket Sports to contact Brita directly. That started a conversation which led to Brita partnering with the LTA this year, Rutherford said.

To get that partnership flowing Brita’s focusing on experiential work at Queen’s, with a “water bar” called La Tap, complete with Brita water sommeliers. Rachel Byles, Iris head of PR and partnerships, said: “We have an opportunity to bring our brand to life outside of the operations on site… and bring the Brita tone of voice to life within the remit of the LTA and make it relevant to the audience that will be there.”

Activations like La Tap, the focus on single-use plastic and a reliance on paid social, are all part of Brita’s efforts to appeal to consumers at the younger end of its core 25-39 target demographic.

The partnership comes as emerging tennis stars such as Emma Raducanu chip away at the sport’s upper middle class associations. According to a spring survey by YouGov, public enthusiasm for the sport has held, despite the departure of major personalities such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams. James Withey, global executive strategy director at Landor, told Digiday that despite the sport’s “elitist reputation”, audiences are broader than marketers might presume.

“Actually, a lot of people do play it. It’s got quite a high participation score, and it’s quite accessible in terms of being able to go and play it,” he said.

Tennis is having a “moment”, added Ogilvy U.K. chief strategy officer Jo Arden, who suggested that partnering with the LTA for its lower tier tournaments (rather than Wimbledon) could benefit Brita. “It’s really difficult if you’re if you’re competing against what has been a headline sponsor with the headline property,” she said. Queen’s, by contrast, has a “much, much broader mass appeal. It feels less exclusive,” Arden added. 

“You need to look like you’re expansive and generous and welcome and inclusive. I think partnering with this level helps you do that,” she said.

Rutherford said Brita doesn’t use “econometric“ means of tracking marketing activity against commercial targets, but on-trade sales of Brita products at Queen’s should give the team some indication of success or failure.

It has forced her team to deploy its budget differently, though. Rutherford declined to share how much the partnership had cost Brita, but said its marketing budget hadn’t increased since last year. To allow for the additional line item, she said Brita cut spending on content. As a consequence Buckley’s reappearance in this year’s sequel film was shot in his kitchen, rather than in a studio.

“Compared to previous years, it’s a similar budget. Where previously we’d spent more money on talent, or the production costs of content, this year we’re using that money for this sponsorship,” said Rutherford.

That means forgoing out-of-home placements near the venues, for example, in favor of a more targeted approach. “Digital feels like a better use of spend,” Rutherford said, adding that Brita prioritizes “ESOP” channels — earned, shared, owned and paid.  

She said the company will monitor the same KPIs as last year, but has added before and after surveys to gauge any movement in public opinion. “We can measure in terms of reach and CPM, but measuring more qualitative stuff for me is really important,” Rutherford said.

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