How Sparkling Ice Revved Up Their Summer Swag
Jacob Hoogerwerf    |    August 19, 2019

An Importing Case Study
No matter which corner of the country you look at, you’ll find devout fans of the bubbly drink Sparkling Ice. Talking Rain, the Washington-based manufacturer, has been ahead of its time, with the creation of this carbonated drink dating back nearly three decades. In the fiercely populated flavored water category, Sparkling Ice stands above the competition – both figuratively and literally. These tall, skinny bottles populate the shelves of retailers across the country in sixteen fizzy, fruity flavors.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Talking Rain for years, creating great branded merch to complement their marketing efforts. Hannah Ham, a communications specialist with Talking Rain, loves leveraging branded items to drive more engagement with consumers. And it works. These items include anything from coolers to fanny-packs, and everything in between.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to take advantage of all that importing has to offer, make sure to plan ahead. Since everything is truly from the ground up, the sourcing and sampling can take additional lead time – more on this later!

In the last few years, these promotional products have become increasingly custom. Whether it’s a Sparkling Ice specific Adirondack chair or air fresheners in their signature bottle shape and scent, there is often a need to turn abroad for crazy customization.

Sparkling Ice has a long history of utilizing custom swag for their marketing campaigns. This article explores how they leverage importing in their promotional marketing strategy (and how you can too). With our network of factories, imported products have never been more accessible for businesses of all sizes. 

What the Flavor? Campaign
In its second rendition, the WTF campaign challenged fans with an elusive mystery flavor of Sparkling Ice, dotting the shelves of grocery stores for a few short months. This year, Talking Rain increased their efforts, asking fans to share guesses on the mystery flavor in return for a shot at a Caribbean cruise among other prizes. To participate, consumers can enter their Mystery Flavor guesses for a chance to win on or through Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #WhatTheFlavorSweeps.

Editor’s Note: My guess is a peach and passion fruit mix 🙂

To get the word out, Talking Rain utilized cunning social media strategy combined with fun promotional products handed out at field events. Instead of relying on the traditional mix of t-shirts and tchotchkes, marketing manager Whitney Bliss says they “focused on products that embodied summertime fun and had functional elements so our consumers could use them beyond the campaign”. As we often preach, creating swag that “sticks” is key to any project. Pieces that won’t end up in the landfill, but will stick with consumers and brand evangelists for years to come.

We have two amazing print shop / production facilities in Utah and Ohio, where many of the Talking Rain items have been decorated. However, as mentioned earlier, some projects require a level of customization that cannot be accomplished domestically.

Creating merchandise from scratch can create lots of logistical hurdles, which is why they turned to Kotis to take advantage of our existing factory direct network and expertise.

Among the many items they wanted for the campaign, Talking Rain had their hearts set on two truly custom items – a pool floaty in the shape of their toucan and a pair of pineapple shades.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a previous piece about, we talked about the importance of the physical swag matching the overall message of the campaign. Sparkling Ice did well by picking items that embodied their summertime fun strategy.

Our design team took their 2D toucan graphic and converted it into a 3D floaty that still retained all the original character. Continuing with the summertime fun concept, we mashed up a pair of sunglasses with 2 pineapple shapes… what a sweet combo (especially when worn by a dog).

With all that customization the items must cost more, right? These pineapple shades are actually cheaper than a standard stock pair. The beauty of importing is you get the benefits of building items from the ground up as well as significant cost savings. Granted the lead times are longer and the minimums are higher, but we think the extra planning is quite worth it.

Producing these products halfway across the globe was only part of the journey – Sparkling Ice also needed the items sent to a variety of field events throughout the campaign. After being produced in China, the items were shipped to our facility in Ohio. When Talking Rain needed items for an event, they used our inventory management platform and the products were sent ASAP to wherever the summertime fun was going down.

When establishing this campaign several years ago, Sparkling Ice ultimately wanted to create a promotion that people were excited about and present a way for fans to connect with the brand.

Thousands of predictions have poured in over Twitter and other social media  – with countless fans sharing their flavor guesses. Susan Engdahl, a brand manager at Talking Rain, expects entries to nearly double this year. With a week left in the campaign, there are over 403,000 entries, eclipsing last year’s total of 251,000. That’s a lot of flavor.

A Note from Chris Hall, Talking Rain CEO: beyond our sales success, we also saw a direct boost of engagement on social media through our What the Flavor sweepstakes.

Lessons on Importing
As with all projects, we like to describe swag as a small but important part of your marketing toolkit. If your brand is considering taking “custom” to the next level, here are some key takeaways:

  • Plan ahead: lead times can be months as opposed to weeks. For example, start brainstorming your holiday gift in August as opposed to November.
  • Product engineering: When building an item from the ground up, sky’s the limit. Lean on our design team to take advantage of all the possibilities
  • Cost & Minimums: Costs will be lower, yet minimums will be higher. Analyze your costs and needs. Even though the overall quantity could be higher than you planned for, it might be a better investment.

We encourage our clients to try new things in order to up their swag game. This often involves looking abroad and developing products from scratch. We’re happy to help you get started. Your fans will thank you.

Thanks to Talking Rain for providing the great photos