Water, Water Everywhere …
Imagine the following
You’re out shopping, you become thirsty, you have no water with you and you are nowhere near home. What do you do…?
You go and buy a bottle of water, right? And you’re not alone…
In 2010, the UK consumed 2055 million litres of bottled water (UK Soft Drinks Report, 2011). But why? Here in the UK we all have access to fresh, running, drinkable water in our homes 24 hours a day.
The average house in England and Wales spends approximately £376 a year on water. That’s just over £1 a day. What’s interesting here is that people are not willing to pay a penny more for this utility. In April this year water bills in England and Wales rose by 5.7% (BBC News, 2012), this was met with a wave (great pun) of annoyance by the general public (including my Dad, who went ape s**t).
But despite the fact that we have access to running water and that people begrudge paying for tap water they seem completely unfazed by paying £1 (or even a lot more) for a 500ml bottle of water. In fact you can actually pay 2,000 times more for a bottle of water than the water you get from your tap (Fishman, 2011).
So why do we do it?
Well one of the reasons has already been alluded to in my story at the beginning – convenience. Not everyone is organised enough to take a bottle of water with them when they leave the house. Even if you are organised there still may be the odd occasion where you simply forget to take water with you.
But this isn’t the only reason. Bottled water has become such an incredibly profitable industry (Americans actually now drink more bottled water than milk or beer (Gleick, 2010)) because the demand for it has been manufactured.
How has the demand been manufactured?
In the 1970’s, soft drinks companies became worried about their projected profits decreasing (Gleick, 2010). So they came up with a new strategy – sell bottled water. But at this time people were not buying a lot of bottled water – they saw it as unnecessary (I mean it is free from a tap after all!). So they came up with two very clever ways to make people want bottled water:
1. They scared people off tap water.
The soft drinks manufacturers used fear appeals in their advertising to stop people drinking the water from their taps (Rollings, 2012). Fear can be a very effective way of affecting consumer’s behaviour because it makes them feel insecure and scared if they don’t have the product (Snipes, LaTour and Bliss, 1999).
A great example of water companies using fear to put people off tap water is Calistoga Mountain Spring Water (a large American bottled water producer) who released a series of adverts showing a picture of a goldfish in a glass of water. Below this picture was written “There is something in this glass you do not want to drink. And it’s not the fish.” (Gleick, 2010).
The example below shows how Fiji water used a fear appeal to tell the people of Cleveland, America that their water is better than Cleveland tap water.
This actually turned out to be one of the biggest marketing mistakes in recent history. The citizens of Cleveland were so incensed by Fiji’s ‘joke’ that it was decided that a series of water analysis tests should be undertaken. Ironically, these tests actually showed that Cleveland tap water was healthier than Fiji water (Fiji water was found to have traces of arsenic in it!!).
If this isn’t enough evidence for you, in 2000 Robert S. Morrison, the vice chairman of PepsiCo, publicly declared “The biggest enemy is tap water. . . We’re not against water—it just has its place. We think it’s good for irrigation and cooking.” (Gleick, 2010).
2. They made bottled water look like a safer, cleaner, healthier option.
Notice that on each of the labels of these bottles of water there are images of greenery, mountain streams and immaculate nature. Well this is (unsurprisingly) done on purpose. It’s done to make you associate bottled water with pureness and cleanliness. But guess what… loads of bottled water is just tap water!
In fact approximately 40% of all bottled water in the U.S. is filtered tap water (Co-op America, 2001). This includes Aquafina, which is the brand of bottled water produced by PepsiCo – making Robert S. Morrison probably the biggest hypocrite to ever walk mother earth. And it’s no better in this country either. As recently as August of this year it was revealed that both Tesco’s and ASDA’s own brand bottled water was just filtered tap water (Telegraph, 2012).
But if you ignore that and do drink bottled water , look at the incredible effects it could have on you:
So what does this all mean?
It means clever marketing can make people want a product they don’t really need. We hear a lot of these stories (e.g. Listerine inventing halitosis etc.) and the message seems to be remarkably clear – if you scare people enough you can even get them to buy or not buy what you want. The question is, is this ethical? Well, that’s up to you to decide…
As always, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading