SXSW, known in long form as South by Southwest, is an annual festival and expo that brings together the film, interactive media, and music industries in mid-March in Austin, TX. It had not been known as a place for the makers of ingestible products to hawk their wares. But Kyowa Hakko turned that table when it signed up for a booth at the interactive media portion of the event in 2019.
New field for legacy ingredient
Kyowa’s vice president of global brand marketing, Karen Todd, RD, said the company has long been eyeing the sector in regard to one of its flagship ingredients, Cognizin, a branded form of citicoline. The company has been researching the ingredient’s effects on mental energy, focus, attention and recall since the mid 2000s.
As the company looked at how to expand both the research base and the market for the ingredient, Todd said esports and egamers became a natural target. She said Kyowa Hakko believed the benefits for the ingredient could extend beyond healthy aging platform and could be attractive to a younger crowd.
“The idea of targeting the esports market was born early in 2013 when we were designing one of our clinical studies to support Cognizin citicoline. We knew we wanted to have data on a younger aged population and wanted to show that Cognizin would not only have an impact on attention and focus, but also on motor speed that can be utilized for esports or any sport,” she said.
“These measures can have an impact on one’s ability to focus and increase one’s speed and accuracy when under time pressure, but also, they could increase or improve their performance with increased speed and accuracy. The esport area was small at the time but showed a rapidly growing area that could benefit from a non-stimulant that would not have the negative side effects of jitters or spikes in one’s energy levels. We hypothesized that Cognizin® could show an impact and was a natural fit for this market,” she said.
In 2015, the company turned its research attention to adolescent males. In a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, Kyowa Hakko demonstrated improved attention and psychomotor speed and reduced impulsivity compared to adolescent males who received placebo.
Making it fun
Todd said the company knew it had to come up with a way to communicate the ingredient’s benefits in a way specific to that market. Specifications and study results would hardly merit a glance. The alternative? Make it fun, and make sure there are finished products on hand to try.
“We knew we needed to create a draw to our booth and provide consumer an easy way to understand what Cognizin was and could do for gamers. We branded the booth under our Cognizin brand name and created a fun/gaming way to draw attendees to our booth. We designed and application we called the Cognizin Tap Test that tested ones’ ability to tap an electronic screen,” she said.
“We kept track of the gamers with the fastest speeds. The response was overwhelming as consumers lined up to play this game and the long lines created a buzz around the exhibit hall — everyone wanted to try it. It was critical to partner with our customers and have finished products with Cognizin which were offered as giveaways and prizes during the exhibition. This way they could physically see, touch and try a product containing Cognizin,” she said.
One of those products was the C4 Smart Energy drink, manufactured by Nutrabolt. The boost the company received from participating in Kyowa Hakko’s booth in 2019 helped drive the brand’s decision to pony up to become the official energy drink of SXSW this year. That big-ticket campaign included signing superstar comedian and actor Kevin Hart up as the brand ambassador.
"C4 Energy is doubling down on our mission to Ignite Your Fire as we gear up for this unique, larger than life omnichannel brand campaign, focused on C4 Smart Energy, which positions the brand squarely into the mental