The Power of Symbolism in Marketing Bottled Water

It’s a Friday here at the Seychelle Media office, and it’s been a long, productive, possibly too productive, week. It’s a ‘water bottles are everywhere–kind of week’. You know what they say when you’re on the last thread of creativity? Just look around you.

You might think that bottled water is just a craze from the 20th century, but actually eau de bottle got its start in the 1600s. This is a time when Holy Water could finally be bottled and sold. However, it wasn’t until Perrier in 1977 revamped its marketing campaign that Americans started a water bottle craze. Still, the way that bottled water is coveted by Americans, you would think it’s blessed.

In present day, there’s a mass conception that bottled water’s just healthier, cleaner and better for you than drinking tap water. Marketing and advertising certainly have helped that image along, but is bottled water really that beneficial for you?

After all, just 13 years after it started the bottle water craze, Perrier would suffer an embarrassing marketing fiasco when its pricey French water at $29 a gallon was found to have benzene (that’s a crude oil byproduct). A massive recall followed in 1990, and yet it didn’t seem to stop anyone from buying other bottled water brands like Evian, Zephyrhills or Dasani. And wouldn’t you know it, Perrier bounced back to become another pricey brand of bottled water.

What’s more interesting is the economics behind water. Back in 2008 Ira Flatow did a piece on “Bottlemania” on NPR, and what he said explains the ridiculous success of marketing bottled water:

And what if I told you that my new business plan – I’ve got a new business. This is how it’s going to work. I want to sell you something that most people can already get for free, or almost free, and you’re going to pay a lot more money for it. And my product costs lots more, but the quality is about the same as the less expensive stuff, or almost free stuff, that you’re getting now. And by the way, the cheap stuff is already being delivered straight to your home. You don’t even have to transport it anywhere. You probably think I’m a bit nuts to go into business, right?

Well, how did bottled water business become an 11 billion-dollar industry in this country?

That’s the question. Bottled water actually isn’t necessarily healthier or cleaner than tap water. In fact, 25 percent of bottled water comes from the tap as its source. Not to mention, do we really want to be tapping into springs and natural ecosystems for water for something that we can get for free at home? I mean, don’t we open our mouths in the shower anyway?

There’s also studies that show bottled water still contains some terrible, mutant-sounding chemicals and byproducts like phthalates, mold, microbes, benzene, trihalomethanes, even arsenic. These studies aren’t old, either.

Another fact: plastic is not biodegradable. It’s just not.

Then there’s the whole problem of drought. Just look at California and the number of bottled water companies who are still allowed to get water even though residents in some areas aren’t even able to use their tap.

So how do they do it? How do they make us pay for water that is nothing like the picture of a beautiful mountain on the front of the package?

Because it’s


Refreshing is one of those marketing words that can sell everything from a massage therapy session with Alejandro to a Coors light. However, when it’s used with bottled water marketing campaigns, a little bit of magic happens. If we think of the brain as a kaleidoscope of thoughts, images, ideas, emotions, sounds and so forth, refreshing is a trigger word that brings up all of the right imagery. It’s all of those images that we symbolize and marinate for years, even centuries, to create this idea that bottled water is refreshing and tap water is bleck.

Marketing bottled water is like a dream because at the base, there is a fear that tap water isn’t a good choice. It’s also seen as a better alternative to bottled soda or teas that are readily available when you are hungry and on the go. In some cases, tap water isn’t a better choice. For example, chemotherapy patients are encouraged to drink bottled water. However, wouldn’t it be simpler just to make tap water safer for everyone? Isn’t that a good long-term goal?

And not too long ago, cigarette companies were saying that smoking had health benefits too. Although I’m not saying drinking bottled water is like smoking cigarettes, Americans have yet to pull back the veil from the Wizards behind the bottled water marketing Oz, and a lot of it is because of refreshing and the symbolism of purity that bottled water companies mass produce with their advertising campaigns.

The simple fact is symbolism can be more powerful than truth.

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