Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lying in Advertising: Is This PR Campaign All Wet?

About three years ago I wrote an article about synthetic motor oil designed to answer the question, "Are synthetic motor oils too expensive?" In the article I started by comparing the price of bottled water, which does not require a great deal of complex chemistry, to the process of making synthetic motor oils, which involves a variety of raw materials -- from base stocks to additive packages -- and a host of complex formulation issues.

So when the press release regarding an upcoming PR campaign against bottled water slid into my inbox yesterday, it caught my eye. At first blush, I wondered if I were seeing the front end of another Alar scare. But upon checking into it, there were some interesting and thought provoking facts brought up. I decided to pass this along and see what others think.

The campaign is called "Lying in Advertising." Being an ad man myself, campaigns need a theme, and this one does catch your attention. The headlines in the ads are all lies. For example, the first ad exclaims, "Bottled Water Makes Acid Rain Fall on Playgrounds." I'm like, "Huh?" How does bottled water cause acid rain. The next says, "Bottled Water is the Primary Cause of Restless Leg Syndrome." I guess I never knew that, but I never heard of RLS either.

The third, again over-the-top, announces that "Bottled Water Causes Blindness in Puppies." What! Kids, do NOT put our bottled water in the puppy dish, please. Finally, in a page from the global warming playbook, "Bottled Water: 98% Melted Ice Caps. 2% Polar Bear Tears."

Well, I bit, just like most readers who see these ads will probably bite. Because each headline has an asterisk. The askerisk leads to some fine print which says, *if bottled water companies can lie, we can too. Followed by links to two websites: tappening.com and startalie.com

The first is a blog about the project. The latter is a game, obviously intended to be fun, but not a lot of fun if you are marketing manager for a bottled water company.

Very clever. So who are these people and what's their motivation?

Evidently Tappening was founded by two guys whose aim is to encourage the public to drink tap water whenever possible, thereby sending a message to the bottled water industry about its unnecessary and extreme waste of fossil fuels and resultant pollution of the Earth.

Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum are New York PR guys. DiMassimo says, "We’ve spent these two years using our marketing and public relations abilities to un-sell bottled water hype. But I still see cascading waterfalls on labels that do not list the source of that water.”

Yaverbaum adds, “This creates an illusion that it is superior to tap water, because that’s what billions of dollars of bottled water advertising has claimed or implied. The thing is, that's simply not true."

For the record, I am not a bottled water guy myself, though not for environmental reasons. I am essentially a cheapskate. (Frugal is the nicer way to say it.) Thus I have had a lot of non-bottled water over the course of a half century, and frankly, some tap water tastes pretty bad. My experience is, however, that if you have ice on hand even the worst water is palatable. I'm fortunate in that the well at our rural home produces wonderful water. (Except every fourth year for about two weeks during the spring rains at which time the flavor takes on a hint of hydrogen sulphide, famously associated with the smell of rotten eggs.)

DiMassimo and Yaverbaum are sinking $535,000 into this campaign which will include what they call "wild postings" in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas. By means of Twitter, Tappening Facebook and MySpace groups, and Friendfeed they expect more than 100,000 of their viral ads to fly around the Internet within 24 hours of release.

While we're on the subject of bottled water, did you know that there is magnetically energized water from a spring in Japan’s Magnetic Mountain that purportedly makes you resistant to disease and gives you longer life. At $99.95 per milliliter, or $10,000 a liter, you won’t want to spill a drop. That's no lie. (Not the part about healing, but the latter part, about not wanting to spill a drop at 10K per liter.)

Well, I hope I've given you something to drink about... I mean, think about. What do you drink? I mean, think. Am I all wet?


Web 3.0 Technology said...

That was fun to read. I do drink some bottled water out of laziness mostly. You don't have to wash it when you are done and you can toss it in the car when you are headed out. I do this knowing that my well water is probably cleaner, and better for me, but I still drink bottled water at least once a week.

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks for the note. Did you know Americans spend more money on bottled water than iPods or movie tickets? (source: Fastcompany.com) Over 15 billion per year...
Supposedly we're spending 100 billion a year on bottled water. Seems like a lot... about what Americans spent on cocaine in the 1980's in a typical year.

Supposedly it takes 17 million barrels of oil to make the bottles for a year's worth of bottled water. (Not sure of what percentage of each barrel is diverted to this purpose... am guessing napthenes and benzenes and other things are also extracted ... but not sure of details.)
thanks for the comment.