Skinny Nutritional Corp. is using sponsorship as a key component of the national rollout of its Skinny Water enhanced beverage brand.

The company plans to spend roughly $500,000 on cash sponsorships over the next year, said president and CEO Don McDonald, noting the figure represents roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of what it will spend overall on marketing during that period.

The company, whose stock trades over the counter, has spent more than $100,000 on deals since a full-scale launch of the product in select markets in May.

Among those deals: a temporary naming rights agreement that converted Midway Stadium, home to minor league baseball’s independent Northern League St. Paul Saints, into Skinny Water Field for a week earlier this month.

The company may replicate that promotion with other minor league baseball teams and their ballparks, McDonald said.

In addition to Minnesota, the company also has signed deals to build visibility in Maryland, southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

Those sponsorships include last month’s The Art of Surfing Festival in Ocean City, N.J., as well as June’s Commerce Bank Triple Crown of Cycling, May’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, all of which occurred in Philadelphia. Skinny Water also is negotiating a deal with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms.

The company plans to sign additional deals to build its presence in new markets. By the end of the year the company plans to enter Baltimore, Boston, and Washington, D.C., as well as Los Angeles, New York City and other markets in California and New York.

Taking on Glaceau’s category-leading Vitaminwater and a plethora of other enhanced waters, Skinny Water’s message focuses on its sugar-free and calorie-free positioning and its claim that it includes natural appetite suppressants to aid weight loss.

The company’s sponsorships are aimed at getting the product in the hands of consumers and in helping strengthen the brand as it seeks to build its distribution channels.

“Sponsorship serves as a support mechanism in our market cultivation strategy by providing a direct link to our potential customers,” said George Wilkins, Skinny Water’s brand manager.

The brand, which is sold in some Target Corp. outlets, this year has gained distribution through supermarket chain Acme Markets, Inc. and Lukoil America’s gasoline and c-store outlets, as well as five Anheuser-Busch distributors and two Red Bull distributors.

Naming Rights Promotion Hits All Hot Buttons
The company has five specific objectives for sponsorship: generate buzz; build visibility in front of potential retail accounts; showcase its active ingredients’ appetite-suppressant, fat-burning and metabolism-boosting properties; gain sampling rights; and reach active 18-to-34-year-olds, skewed female.

The company used its reported $50,000 deal for Skinny Water Field to generate media coverage in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. The brand entered Minnesota in June after signing deals with three of the state’s Anheuser-Busch distributors.

The company also used the tie to build its presence in front of a key retail partner: Target.
“Minneapolis is a key market for us because it has a large number of Target stores and is headquarters to Target Corp.,” McDonald said in a statement.

To highlight Skinny Water’s “zero calories, zero sugar, zero guilt’ ” theme, the company leveraged the August 3-9 naming rights promotion by posting zeros around the pitcher’s mound and home plate, as well as in the outfield, during the Saints’ six home games. It also touted its brand on player uniforms and through on-site signage.

The sponsorship also provided sampling opportunities. “Product sampling is a key part of our marketing. We think that once we get it in people’s hands, they are going to buy it,” McDonald said.

In addition, the deal included $30,000 worth of TV and radio spots during the week of the promotion. “We would have spent more money and received less attention if we purchased the media on our own,” said McDonald, who signs off on sponsorships.

Skinny Water also has an endorsement deal with Philadelphia fitness guru, entrepreneur and former NBA 76ers president Pat Croce, whom the company touts through Acme supermarket circulars in the Philadelphia market.

In addition, the brand sampled product in goody bags distributed to celebrities at this year’s Grammy Awards, Latin Grammy Awards and other music and Hollywood-centric events.