Theodore Roosevelt drank Poland Spring. So did Mae West.

Now, add Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to the list of thirsty fans.

During a rebuttal from the House speaker’s conference room after President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, Rubio reached for a small bottle of Poland Spring water off screen and took a quick sip.

That mid-response pause on national television immediately went viral, lighting up social media outlets. Rubio later made light of the brief interruption, even tweeting a photo of the Poland Spring bottle.

In an appearance Wednesday on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America,” he said, “I needed water, what am I going to do? God has a funny way of reminding us we’re human.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the infamous lunge had become such an attention-grabber on the Twitterverse that Rubio followed up with another tweet that said, “Picked up over 13,000 new followers on #twitter since last night! Im going to start drinking #water in the middle of all of my speeches!”

Rubio’s moment of thirst was a surprise to Poland Spring, which employs 800 people in Maine and has water sources in about half-a-dozen towns here. The company, owned by Nestle Waters North America since 1987, contends Rubio’s beverage of choice was not coordinated with the company or even known until it aired on national television.

“Just like everyone, Sen. Rubio gets thirsty. We’re really happy that Poland Spring was close at hand when he needed some refreshment,” said Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for Nestle Waters. “Of all the beverage choices he could make, we’re happy he chose Poland Spring.”

Lazgin said one billion packaged beverages are sold every day in the United States, so it was surprising he chose theirs.

Poland Spring took a little time to capitalize on all the attention, but by early afternoon Wednesday it had posted a photo and comment to its Facebook account, saying, “Reflecting on our cameo. What a night!” The photo captured an image of a bottle of Poland Spring water gazing at itself in a mirror.

Lazgin said the company had no other plans to capitalize on the thirsty moment.

“I love what they did. It was witty and clever. It was the best response they could have made,” said Nicole Jacques, a public relations strategist with the marketing firm Pulp+Wire in Portland. “The best part was that it was unexpected. It was fame that wasn’t actually forced.”

Poland Spring got some criticism in the press that it failed to seize quickly on its moment of social media glory. Although the company did update its Facebook page, its Twitter account, @PolandSpringWtr, had not been updated since July 2010, when it tweeted: “Find out what we are doing to help preserve our national parks!”

By comparison, other brands have been quicker to embrace a viral opportunity than Poland Spring.

During the recent Super Bowl power outage, for example, Oreo grabbed headlines – and retweets – when it tweeted: “Power Out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Meanwhile, Etch A Sketch’s Twitter account got new life after Mitt Romney’s spokesman compared the candidate’s changing strategies to the children’s toy.

“Honestly, being owned by a huge international corporation, Poland Spring has less freedom to make political statements,” said Sean Wilkinson, a principal with the research, branding and marketing agency Might+Main in Portland. “It’s a lucky, happy incident. It’s great for them. They should just sit back and enjoy it.”

Mitch Stoller, a social media expert and partner with the digital consultancy firm Group SJR in New York, acknowledged that there is more risk when a brand brushes shoulders with a politician, but if handled properly, it can bridge the divide in politics and grab consumers’ attention with humor.

“They should seize the moment. It’s a great opportunity. Everyone’s talking about their brand. And you don’t get that many opportunities like this,” Stoller said.

In the whirlwind of popular culture, Rubio’s water break may quietly fade away.

“Consumers might get a chuckle buying their next Poland Spring. It would be a mistake to make more of this than it is. But for Poland Spring – it becomes part of their brand story,” Jacques said.

Some media critics said Rubio’s awkward reach for water upstaged the content of his comments. They said the star of the post-State of the Union political spinfest was not the man considered a rising star of the Republican Party, but Poland Spring.

“We didn’t expect there to be such enthusiasm,” Lazgin said. “We do see flutters of conversation when a celebrity drinks Poland Spring. But we’ve been around since 1845. A lot of famous people have had Poland Spring.”

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]

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