College-aged students oftentimes chug enough energy drinks over the course of a school semester to sink the Titanic. They are the prototypical demographic sugary goodness drink manufacturers are desperately trying to reach.

Xyience, the zero-calorie, zero-sugar energy drink owned by soft drink company Big Red, is doing things a tad differently by chasing the ever elusive “older” millennial with a new college football integrated marketing campaign headlined with ESPN reporter and brand spokesperson Samantha Ponder.


Cheeky TV commercials starring the journalist entitled “Pond Pondering with Sam Ponder” have already hit airwaves and will continue throughout the year. The campaign is combined with a social media contest inviting fans to submit their own “Pond Pondering” video script. Fans can also enter for a chance to win a trip to a college bowl game of their choice.

Xyience’s partnership with Ponder will be paired with the Campus Insiders original series “Inside the College Football Rankings” where it will serve as a digital destination for Xyience-sponsored programming and creating and delivering exclusive content across the Campus Insiders Network, and the Campus Insiders’ Facebook page

Thomas Oh, senior vice president of marketing at Big Red, joined [a]listdaily to pass over some details around their new college sports marketing platform.

Why is the new integrated marketing campaign featuring Samantha Ponder the best move for the brand?

Xyience is a zero-calorie, great-tasting, broadly appealing energy drink that was previously aligned with a somewhat polarizing platform in UFC and mixed martial arts. We decided to reposition the brand using a platform that is also broadly appealing—college sports. ‘ESPN’s College GameDay’ is the premier college football show and we thought that Samantha would be a fantastic ambassador for the brand because she’s a part of the demographic (older millennial, ages 27-to-37) that we’re targeting. We’re also extremely pleased that she’s a genuine fan of our product.

What kind of experiential marketing activations can college-aged consumers expect in the coming months?

At key campuses around the country, Xyience will be sampling at tailgates throughout the season. We’d like as many consumers as possible to try our great-tasting product, and tying into football tailgates is a natural extension of our college sports platform.

What is the marketing and social media strategy you plan to execute with the campaign?

With Samantha, we have created custom content that we will be delivering through our social media channels as well as hers. We will also conduct a user-generated contest in which consumers can submit their own “Pond Ponderings.” We’ll select the best lines and Samantha will recreate the commercial, and then we’ll publish those via social media. We think it’ll be a fun prize for consumers to hear their ponderings as voiced by Samantha.


How did you identify college sports and older millennials as the consumer base Xyience needed to reach? 

Research showed that older millennials ages 27-to-37 was the demo that was increasing their consumption of energy drinks, which makes sense because they grew up with energy drinks and are now becoming parents and realizing more keenly their need for energy.

Aside from Samantha Ponder, who are some of the other influencers and athletes you’re currently working with?

Through our partnership with Campus Insiders, we have worked with Seth Davis, their college basketball expert. We’re also working closely this fall with their college football personalities—Shae Peppler, Jordan Cornette, Pete Fiutak and Bonnie Bernstein.

What is the best way to reach CrossFit athletes, color run participants and marathoners—a group of which is a big sample of your consumer base? 

Most of these consumers are also fans of college sports. These ‘active participants’ certainly appreciate the attributes that Xyience offers.

How do you separate yourselves from the likes of Monster, Rockstar or Red Bull, who all have loyal fan bases? What’s different?

The top-three brands have certainly done a fantastic job using action sports, motorsports and extreme imagery to market their products. If we followed suit, Xyience would not break through. That’s why we selected a platform like mainstream college sports that was untapped by those brands, and would appeal to a much broader audience.

Xyience was one of the UFC’s major sponsors until 2014. What did being the “official energy drink of the UFC” do in growing the brand, and how has the “less hardcore image” been received over the years?

The association with UFC definitely created awareness among fans of that sport. But we believed that we had an opportunity to broaden and ‘soften’ the message. So far, feedback from our distributor and retailer partners about our college sports marketing platform has been extremely positive. And more consumers are learning about our product with our broad messaging.

How would you describe the post-UFC state of Xyience?

We’re excited about the opportunity with Xyience. It’s definitely on trend—zero-calorie products are driving the growth in the energy drink category, and Xyience is not only the original zero-calorie energy drink, but all our stock-keeping units (SKU) are zero calorie. I believe our re-brand has been successful because we replaced a well-known platform with one that was even more well-known. It made perfect sense to our partners and now consumers are discovering how great our product is.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan