More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!
A generation ago bottled water sales were almost non-existent, unless you counted the deliveries of 5-gallon bottles to homes and businesses. Most likely it is here to stay, though more consumers have become aware about the truths of bottled water. Anywhere from 30 to 45% of those bottles contain water from the tap, and statistics suggest that over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce those bottles for US consumption—and that does not include the fuel needed to transport them.
So authors like Annie Leonard push back at the bottled water industry, and the industry replies in kind. Companies like Coca-Cola show up at events like Go Green Expo, solely to distribute literature claiming that concerns over bottled water’s effects on energy consumption and waste are overblown. Now the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and its consumer arm, Bottled Water Matters, have produced videos touting bottled water’s benefits.
One video, depending on the viewer’s mood, may actually convince consumers to shy away from bottled water. The lead character looks like a celeste blue relative of Mr. Potato Head, or a Smurf, depending on your perspective. Our host for this segment rattles of statistics including the suggestion that 20% or so of our daily calories comes from beverages, and bottled water is having a huge role in combating heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. The lecture also includes a reminder that consumers just do not like the taste of chlorine in their water—overlooking the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency set a limit on chlorine concentration in municipal tap water. As an aside, this character sounds like he has sucked up an enormous helium balloon, which is always cute for 15 seconds, but after three minutes, the chipmunk voice begs for the mute button.
In the end, economic reasoning is the best one reason to slow the purchase of bottled water—if consumers tallied up how much they spent on bottled water they may want to take a step back. Evidence suggests spending on bottled water has declined during the recession. But marketing has an enormous role in the success of bottled water—while private label bottled water has increased, consumers often complain that such water is bland (isn’t is supposed to be?). And while the fact remains that most municipal water is safe, many areas, especially in the rural parts of the United States, have water sources that are not monitored by local or federal agencies.
So the YouTube shenanigans may not be the IBWA’s best marketing move, but overall the messaging campaigns by companies like Fiji have struck a nerve. Perhaps municipal water agencies could take a page out of their competitors’ playbook, and do a better job to persuade consumers that a viable option is one that is practically free.