Topo Chico, the quintessential Austin drink

I’m a big fan of Topo Chico. I am not however, a big fan of mineral water. Or sparkling water. Or bottled water. I don’t buy specialty waters in the grocery store. I don’t ask for them at restaurants. Based on my normal beverage buying habits, no water brand would identify me as their target audience.

But I love me some Topo Chico. Though honestly, my love has very little to do with their actual product. I mean, it’s pretty good mineral water. It’s crisp and refreshing. It’s affordable. Tastes good with a lime… But whatever. All mineral water is like that. No, my love is built purely on association.

What you might not know about me is that I lived in Austin Texas (for not nearly long enough) and loved everything about being there. It’s my favorite place ever and I miss it dearly.

And you also might not know that Topo Chico is a ‘thing’ in Austin. You find it everywhere. Somehow it’s as Austin-y as breakfast tacos and epic bar patios. It’s not a local brand. It’s not marketed as the perfect drink for cool Austinites. It’s just there, a quiet, modest brand available wherever you might buy a drink. And I started to drink it because that’s what you do when you live in Austin.

My first attraction to it was the glass bottle. Kind of like Mexican Coke, there’s something fun about drinking out of something that feels like a relic of simpler times. But more than that, the product just feels more important when it has heft in your hands. It feels less disposable. Less like a commodity. More like a legitimate drink. Even though the actual product itself is just carbonated water. That’s why I never buy the plastic liters you find in California. I don’t care about the water part. To me, Topo Chico is all about drinking from that glass bottle.

The next thing that drew me to Topo Chico is that it isn’t beer, coffee, or a caloric drink. Austin is a very social town and I went out with friends all the time, day and night. And while I’m happy to enjoy a ‘real’ drink sometimes, hours of drinking just isn’t practical for my body or my wallet.

So maybe all my friends are going for a drink but I’m trying to save money. Topo Chico to the rescue! With my glass bottle in hand, I can still fully participate in the fun without breaking the bank.

Or maybe we’re going for a swim in the blazing sun before work. We stop at a coffeeshop afterwards and I can cool down with a refreshing drink that somehow feels more special than mindlessly gulping a plastic bottle of Aquafina would.

Now multiply these Topo Chico moments by all the awesome times I had hanging out with my friends. A drink that had a constant presence in my life when I was having the time of my life. A drink that I drank proudly because it was Austin’s personal brand of bottled water.

That’s why I love Topo Chico. It represents my best life in a way few other brands can. Pellegrino is everywhere. Topo Chico is only in Austin. And every sip, every clink of that bottle brings me back to where I always want to be.

Well, there’s a lot of reasons someone might like Topo Chico or a similar brand. And as marketers we might dig for clues by researching the demographics of bottled water drinkers or testing the importance of different product attributes. But none of that would account for the contextual experience a consumer might have with the product in their everyday life.

Additionally, all the brand building in the world wouldn’t have given me my love of Topo Chico. I’ve never seen a Topo Chico ad of any kind. To this day I know almost nothing about the brand. I just don’t really care about their values or mission statement. And maybe if I knew it I wouldn’t love them like I do. I probably wouldn’t be able to put so much of myself into the brand because it would be full of the meaning they’re trying to push on me. But since it’s basically a blank canvas I’m free to project my own meaning into the brand. Obviously this isn’t a good strategy for all brands, but we can see from recent examples like LaCroix that you don’t have to hit people over the head with branding to win a lot of hearts. A constant presence at a good price that can fit any occasion. That’s a damn good strategy.