Pop Water Comes With Some Popular Founders: Troy Carter, Terry Richardson, and Lady Gaga’s Money

Here’s the challenge for Troy Carter, the manager of pop superstar Lady Gaga: launch a brand that has a basis in celebrity DNA without necessarily using those celebrities as the only reason to buy the product.

Yesterday, Carter announced that he was launching Pop Water, a low-calorie soft drink with famed fashion photographer Terry Richardson as its design director. Activate Drinks co-founder Burke Eiteljorg is also attached to the project, bringing beverage industry knowledge and contacts to the team.

But despite his and Richardson’s strong ties to the cultural and musical phenomenon that is Lady Gaga, Carter made it clear that  he isn’t making “GagaH2O” — his plans for Pop Water don’t rely on his famous client’s celebrity to sell the product.

She is an investor, Carter said, but “Pop Water is completely independent of Lady Gaga.”

Not that having a product attached to her doesn’t help, Carter concedes, but the company is interested in developing a credible beverage brand that isn’t based solely on celebrity because he’s wary of not having a product that could stand on its own.

“We understand celebrity really well,” Carter said. “We know when it’s an advantage and when it’s a disadvantage. You cannot hide a bad product behind celebrity.”

Instead, Carter is hoping that the brand’s striking design – the 11.2 oz. aluminum bottles, imported from Europe, feature strong fruit-splash graphics – and low calorie count will intersect with an ongoing move toward healthier beverages. The product is a 30-calorie fruit-flavored CSD, sweetened with a mix of sugar and stevia. The brand will debut in January in four flavors: pineapple, grape, orange and apple. Atom Factory worked with Wild Flavors on product development for almost a year, according to Carter.

Eiteljorg has been working with Carter and Richardson to build a team to help aid distribution and sales. The product is expected to launch through a handful of well-known southern California distributors when it debuts, although no MSRP has yet been attached to it.

“We have three or four of the usual players lined up now,” Eiteljorg told BevNET.

According to Carter, the company will focus initially on supermarket and specialty retailers, although with regard to alternative channels, “we have some tricks up our sleeve.”

Richardson, an edgy photographer who is known for erotically-charged shoots, was responsible for the design of the bottle. He has already worked on a coffee table book with Lady Gaga, released last year.

The idea for a soft drink arrived following what Carter called “music-related initiatives” with the Coca-Cola Co., Inc. and PepsiCo, Inc. According to the branding expert, the ties between music and pop culture have not been fully infused into the DNA of a beverage brand.

There are similarities between music and beverage, he added, in terms of starting small, building an audience, and making investments at the right time.

“We’re coming into the beverage industry with full respect,” for the challenges it entails, he said.

Both Lady Gaga and Atom Factory clients Greyson Chance and Fareoh quickly passed along “likes” on Facebook following the unveiling of the Pop Water project. But another one of Carter’s clients, Legend, is already on board with Hint Water as an investor and brand representative. Despite client loyalty, the manager said, there won’t be any room reserved for Hint in the Atom Factory’s refrigerator.

“That’s going to be Pop Water only,” he said.