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It’s Time to Show Your Support for Bottled Water? We Think Not.

A grassroots campaign for a billion-dollar industry has us reaching for a glass of tap water.

Some ad campaigns can be brilliant virally successful works of art – a recent example: the Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" videos. Using humor to sell deodorant –– very funny. Using grassroots campaign methods to drum up support for a billion dollar industry –– well, that's a different story.

We get a lot of press releases emailed to us at The Daily Green, but there was something about the subject line, "It’s time to show your support for bottled water," that got our attention. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) press release was announcing a new video on the Bottled Water Matters Website. Reading the email you could almost forget the members of this organization sells over 30 billion bottles of water a year, in this country alone.

Bottled Water: Show Your Support

The press release describes the video like this: "a Bottled Water Matters teenage advocate talks about the value she places on bottled water and how access to bottled water is being threatened by anti-bottled water activists who are discouraging consumers from buying this safe, healthy, convenient food product."

Who are these so-called anti-bottled water activists? Tom Lauria, IBWA vice president of communications told me that there had been many municipal decisions lately stopping the use of water bottles in government programs. That hardly sounds like activism, more like common sense. The IBWA, Lauria said, wants people to know, "We have to fight to preserve choice –– stand up and be counted." Last we counted Americans spend over $11 billion dollars on bottled water.

Lauria argues that environmentalists are focusing on bottled water, while sodas are off the hook. Although the recent proposals for so-called "soda taxes" would seem to disagree with that sentiment. Laurie believes the environmental solution is recycling. Other videos on the Bottle Water Mattes site repeatedly bring up the ease of recycling water bottles, but the truth is that just 10% of water bottles are recycled.

Taste, convenience and health are the main selling points for bottled water. "No little plastic pitcher is going to purify it like [bottled does]," said Lauria. The health argument for bottled water, is a real concern in very few circumstances. Water in most of the United States is safe to drink. Bottled water is also less regulated then tap water. The taste debate seems more nuanced. Presumably some people during occasional meals, perhaps in restaurants that hire water sommeliers, believe that the way water tastes effects your meal. As as much as a corked bottle of vino? Probably not. Most people are not drinking bottled water at that level. Bottled water for most is just as a convenience –– an expensive, unnecessary convenience. That liquid comes from your tap after all

This new video and the other videos on the site (another one to watch is a classic devil/angel on the shoulder variety –– embedded below) focus on the questionable safety of tap water, the convenience and great taste of bottled water and the powerlessness you feel as a consumer having your water bottles taken away, although it is never clear who is taking your water bottle away. The videos have the vibe of a grass roots campaign. When I mentioned this to Lauria he was pleased with the impression the videos made. All the videos were done in house and they were made to target the YouTube audience, Lauria said. Targeting the youth audience is something the tobacco industry, a previous employer of Lauria, has been accused of doing in the past.

The videos pull at the heart-strings of all-American bottled water drinkers. You see the teenage spokesperson in front of classic American landscapes. She uses buzz words like "change", "safe", and "your opinion." She even wants YOU to drink bottled water — an idea she presents with the classic Uncle Sam finger point.

The scripts are coupled with low-production value and hokey graphics (the clay water bottle in "The Real Story of Bottled Water" –– embedded below –– for example). At first glance, this over-the top low-brow campaign reminded us of commercial spoofs from Saturday Night Live. Could such a high-brow organization –– IBWA represents large companies like Crystal Springs and Nestlé Waters –– make these videos? Was it a hoax?

But, no, the campaign is deliberate and real. So, enjoy the IBWA videos ... and if you need a dose of water-bottle counter points (or reality) try The Story of Bottled Water (embedded below), by the Story of Stuff creator, Story of Stuff creator, Annie Leonard. Let us know what you think.

The Real Story of Bottled Water

Conflicted Consumer

The Story of Bottled Water

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Gloria Dawson

Gloria Dawson

Gloria Dawson is The Daily Green's photo editor.
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