Stephanie Fierman Drains The Bottled Water Hype
Monday September 15th 2008, 1:58 pm
Filed under: blogs,branding,environmentalism,market research

It seems possible that the bottled water phenomenon is finally losing steam.

Brand Keys recently conducted a survey of more than 25,000 consumers indicating that the most important attribute sought by an individual buying bottled water is “value.”  As a marketing executive and student of consumer behavior for over 20 years, I do not necessarily believe this.  Convenience and – for the higher-end brands such as Voss and Fiji – status have both reigned as key purchase drivers since bottled water took off in the 1990s.  While 25% of the bottled water sold in the United States is re-processed tap water (including the two largest brands, Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Dasani), bottled water has been sold as everything from a healthy choice to a fashion accessory.  So I absolutely do not believe that “value” is historically a top criterion for purchase.stephanie-fierman-dimassimo-fish-ad.jpg

I don’t think that consumers are lying.  I think that the prism of mores through which individuals now view bottled water has fundamental changed, based primarily on the recession and, secondarily, the green movement.  Efforts such as Mark DiMassimo‘s and Eric Yaverbaum‘s Tappening have done a tremendous job of not only pointing out the absurdity of bottled water (“Being charged for water is like being charged for gravity,” says Dimassimo), but also the profound environmental waste and damage associated with its consumption.  The pictures accompanying this post are from Tappening’s first ad campaign.

stephanie-fierman-dimassimo-bill-ad.jpgSo how have manufacturers reacted?  Pepsi and Coke are discounting like crazy and refocusing their efforts on “enhanced water” such as SoBe Life Water and sugary VitaminWater, respectively.  While these companies’ bottled water sales dried up in the first half of 2008, then enhanced water category grew by 18.4%.

Will bottled water sales come back?  Tappening‘s Dimassimo says no, that a cultural shift has taken hold just as price sensitivity is reaching its highest point:  the “perfect storm,” as it were, for those trying to discourage bottled water sales.  “Bottled water is… environmental wastefulness… and it’s caught in the same storm as Starbucks” he says. ”  It felt good to be a little extravagant a few years ago.  Now it doesn’t feel good to waste money.”

Mark Dimassimo    Eric Yaverbaum   Aquafina    Dasani    Tappening    bottled water


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