Sonja Vernooij – Spadel

Sonja Vernooij – Spadel

Sonja Vernooij is the Country Coordinator Marketing & Senior Brand Manager Spa Waters in the Netherlands. She also coordinates all marketing activities for the Dutch market and reports to the Marketing Manager SPA Benelux.

Main ingredients for growth

Spadel’s main ingredient for growth is sales, but from a marketing perspective it’s brand penetration and brand health, which ultimately leads to sustainable sales. Sonja: “Sales is important when steering on the short-term business results, whilst brand health is more targeted towards long term marketing goals.” When it comes to communication, Sonja highlights two main criteria: “Firstly, the goals and positioning you have set internally, need to be reflected clearly. The key takeout that the viewer has, needs to fully match our Brand Source model. This is our compass, making sure every concept or creative reflects the same core message. Next to that, awareness is important, but because we are by far the biggest A-brand in water, just awareness is not good enough. Good creatives need to contribute to consideration and purchase intent. Which doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in sales in the short term, but it is an indicator for the health of your brand for the longer term. You have to offer your consumers reasons to buy. We need to be present as a brand in a relevant way, and link the brand to specific entry points.”

Creatives: The big idea

According to Sonja, creatives start with a good concept. “It’s about the big idea behind the execution. When you only see creatives as taking a picture or making a TV commercial, I think you are missing an important element, and are not future proof. A good creative should easily be translated to any touchpoint. The starting point for the execution of the concept is often the TV commercial, because it is the touchpoint which requires the biggest budget. However, a TV commercial can be important today, but might not be the year after, and so you need to be able to rely on your other touchpoints. In our concept phase, we try to get a feeling whether the concept will work on other touchpoints than just TV alone.” Sonja continues to tell us about their creative process. “We firstly look at the brand message we want to bring across to our consumer, which is validated in our Brand Source model. I believe that when you have in order your foundation, know where you are heading and how your consumers perceive your brand, it will save you a lot of work. Our big idea is set, so we only test specific executional issues among our consumers. There are crucial questions which we still test among the consumer, making sure they don’t disrupt our brand message. It’s very valuable, but a more isolated way of testing.”

“Everyone knows that consistency is an important element in advertising”, Sonja continues. “Every marketer wants to be consistent, but it remains one of the biggest challenges. With our brand Spa we operate in different product categories: water, flavoured water, and lemonade. On the one hand, you want to be consistent across our sub-brands in those categories, but at the same time, you need to respect the category codes. Finding the right balancing act is a challenge. For Spa Waters, we focus more on brand building, because our sub-brands also benefit from the equity of Spa as a master brand. We want to trigger people on an emotional level to desire Spa. But we aren’t just building for the long term, we also activate people to buy our products on the short term. We want to build in triggers that contribute to that shorter-term success. Flavoured waters and lemonade are highly competitive markets, so we use more sales activation in these categories. The interaction between these 3 sub-brands is very interesting, and it’s exciting to be able to remain consistent.”

Success of creatives

Sonja tells us that there are two important elements contributing to the success of their creatives. “In our creatives, we need to differentiate us in a relevant way from tap water, without bringing tap water into a negative light. Dutch people like to drink tap water, and it’s our challenge to share and explain the added value of mineral water. Not just the fact that it’s bottled, but that the actual purity of the product has to offer something.”

Next to that, brand linkage is an important element in Spa’s creatives. “A reason why creatives can fail is because you’re just communicating for the category. So, brand linkage is very important. When you are not recognisable, unique, and can visibly link the creative to our brand, we will miss the point. And let’s face it: we are not just here to entertain; we are here to activate and trigger people to buy our brand. When we have made a fantastic commercial, but it leaves people wondering who it’s from and why they should buy it, you won’t make an impact.”

Creative input

Sonja tell us where she finds her inspiration. “Mostly, internally. We show the campaign to the marketing team and sometimes we also involve other disciplines, as we want to make sure the things we show and say are perfectly in order. Because we are a mineral water company, there are things we can and cannot communicate about, so the headlines and some copy go past our legal and CSR teams for fact check. Next to that, Spadel is an independent family company, so a lot of the things we create go past the company owner, who is of course very much involved with the brand and therefore shares his input and final approval with us as well.”

Next to that, Spadel closely cooperates with their advertising agencies: “We work with two different agencies, one for our big campaigns, and we have a digital agency specifically for The Netherlands. They work closely together and help us with our always-on approach and translating our campaigns to online to fit the Dutch market, which can be different than Belgium. Our TV campaigns, outdoor, online video, is all made for the Benelux. For online, we opted for a local approach. To really connect with the target group, standing out and finding the right tone of voice is important for online, and we look for the right connection with our target group. The local touch is an important aspect in that.”


Sonja tells us her trends for the future: “It will be a challenge to make video’s and commercials shorter, something that might not be applicable to TV right away, but perhaps would be better. Next to that, I would say really multi-touchpoint thinking. In my ideal world, the next concept doesn’t start with a TV campaign, but with an online campaign which TV will support. I think it is a shame that TV is still so much leading. And I get why, it is the place where most of the budget is drawn to in media. But I believe that in the way consumers now consume media, it will increasingly start to work the other way around.”