Marco Rubio in "Watergate"
Sen. Marco Rubio took a water break during his State of the Union rebuttal speech, and the Poland Spring sip debacle -- dubbed "Watergate" shortly after it took place -- went viral immediately. / @ditzkoff

Marco Rubio may have flubbed his speech with a big gulp of water, but it’s Poland Spring, a subsidiary of the Swiss beverage giant Nestlé, that almost took a branding bath.

Fans of the spring water have been begging for an official response to Sen. Rubio’s impromptu water break during his rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Rubio, R-Fla., had an Eastwooding moment on Tuesday night, when he awkwardly lunged off screen during his speech to quench his thirst with a sip of Poland Spring. Twitter instantly lit up with chatter, and the bottled-water brand suddenly found itself the talk of social media.

After more than 12 hours of silence -- an eternity on Twitter -- the company said late Wednesday morning that it was ready to join the conversation. Jane Lazgin, a spokesperson for Nestlé Waters North America in Connecticut, said the company simply wasn’t expecting Rubio’s “Watergate” incident to snowball as it did.

“It was very impromptu,” Lazgin said in a phone interview. “We’re just happy that we could be there to serve as a refreshment for the senator in his time of need.”

Lazgin, who said she is in charge of updating the Poland Spring Twitter account, said she plans to keep a closer eye out for social media branding opportunities in the future. “Everyone’s more vigilant about social media these days,” she said.

In all, the moments following Rubio’s water sip were productive for purveyors of Internet snark. Countless Twitter users poked fun of the incident, with some users calling for an animated-GIF recap and others uploading Rubio-inspired memes. Even Rubio himself took the incident in stride, immediately posting a photo of the infamous bottle on Twitter.

And yet, Poland Spring remained curiously silent throughout the ordeal. On social media, the public weighed in on Poland Spring’s silence, and the verdict has not been good. Across Twitter, users teased the company’s M.I.A. status as a “lost opportunity” and “missing out on a Twitter goldmine.” One user accused Poland Spring employees of being “asleep at the helm.”

On the Poland Springs Facebook page, it was pretty much the same story, with some users congratulating the company on the free advertising and others pleading for an official response. At least one user commended the company for resisting the opportunity to capitalize on an elected official’s embarrassing moment.

Brands that find themselves at the center of viral memes are admittedly in a tricky situation. Say nothing and they risk coming off as snobbish, or worse -- out of touch. However, jumping too quickly into the game could just as easily backfire, particularly where politics are involved. Sesame Workshop, for instance, exhibited restraint after Mitt Romney turned Big Bird into a political pawn during a presidential debate. Sesame at the time declined to comment, except to say that it was glad that “everyone likes Big Bird.”

In Poland Spring’s case, however, the potential for serendipitous brand awareness is difficult to overlook. Kim Garst, a social media branding strategist, said the company should embrace its moment in the spotlight.

“Personally, I think Poland Spring is missing a golden opportunity to leverage massive exposure for its brand,” she said. “It is very telling that they have not tweeted since 2010. Not only are they missing out on the Marco Rubio incident, but they are also missing out on the opportunity to build community, customer service and greater awareness around their brand using the power of social media.”

Lazgin said Poland Spring plans to post a response to the Rubio sip on its Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, given the short shelf-life of the average Twitter-fueled hubbub, the water company’s opportunity for an organic brand-awareness homerun may have already run dry.

[Update 2:54 pm: As promised, Poland Spring posted this picture on its Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon.]