UK brand manager John Mulvey talked down a negative US press article last year, carrying reports of a ‘zombiefest’ after adverse side-effects among New Jersey middle school pupils, and said the brand would never have endorsed sales to children that occurred “without our knowledge or approval”.
Marley’s Mellow Mood was launched onto the UK market in November 2010, made its US debut six months earlier. The lightly carbonated drink, which the brand claims is made with 100% natural ingredients, is now distributed worldwide in 30 countries.
Mulvey said the youth-oriented brand wanted to “go as global as we can, and it helps in this respect that Bob Marley is such a massive global icon”.
“Everything he stands for we stand for. We genuinely try to operate using the ‘what would Bob do?’ philosophy. If something feel, loud, shouty, arrogant, then we don’t want to be a part of it.”
High-impact Bob Marley branding
Mulvey claimed that Marley’s was one of the fastest-growing US beverage brands, worth circa. $35m in 2012 but poised for massive growth this year, especially given a Walmart listing for Mellow Mood from January.
The ‘relaxation’ formula for the brands five SKU range in the UK (three carbonates, two RTD teas, the latter aimed at a slightly older audience) includes lemon balm, chamomile, rosehips and hops, while valerian root is also used in the US formula.
“As you’d expect, creating a completely new proposition, a wholly new sub-category of functional drinks, it’s been a challenge, but not one without its merits,” Mulvey said.
But the high-level impact of the Bob Marley branding helped, Mulvey said, coupled with the drink’s “innovative USP as it being a relaxation beverage, which sets it aside from the vast number of energy drinks on the market that retail buyers see every day”.
Marley’s initially grew through independent stores in the UK, Mulvey said, and took around £2m in retail sales before inking deals with major multiples last year: Tesco, Sainsbury’s (each around 150 stores), Spar, Appleby Westwood and Ocado this year.
Mellow Mood ‘not about the rat race’
We asked about Mulvey about bad press relating to energy drinks, and whether youth oriented-brand Marley’s could capitalize upon this in some respects, as the antithesis of an archetypal energy brand tied to, say, skate park culture and loud music.
“There has been a significant amount of bad press for energy drinks in recent months. It would be remiss of me to comment on that,” Mulvey said.
“But Marley’s Mellow Mood does set itself aside from that. It’s not about the rat race – it is about slowing down, it’s about a lifestyle and a mentality of Bob Marley himself, above anything else.”
The drink’s botanicals “did what they said on the tin”, to lessen stress and anxiety, Mulvey added, but said: “We do not want to embed the brand in science, which would be off-brand for us”.
Quizzed about a CBS News article claiming adverse side-effects (vomiting and lethargy) among US middle school children who drank Mellow Mood, Mulvey said the brand had strict policies on not selling to children, and that its US distributor was at fault for positioning the products in the school.
“We held an internal investigation as to how that happened. We are wholly innocent and did nothing wrong,” he said, before adding that the US formulation was more efficacious than that used in the EU (due to regulatory demands) given its use of valerian root.
Further relevant brand extensions were also in the offing, Mulvey said, stressing that Marley’s One Drop (an RTD coffee already on sale) was positioned at a slightly older and much smaller market.
“The way it’s been received, due to the power of the Marley brand, makes us feel confident that in future the brand needn’t necessarily revolve around relaxation alone, looking at the short- and medium term,” Mulvey added.