The rise of the bottled water market is a great example how marketers can make people want something they don't need into something they feel they do need and want and then charge for that something accordingly.
To marketers everywhere, be reminded: if bottled water can be charged for at more than the price of gas, then the world is your proverbial oyster. I'm not talking here about the kind of bottled water that developed countries actually need. I'm talking about the art of marketing, branding, perception change and then the selling of water to people who already have perfectly drinkable and safe water running out of their taps at home and don't actually need bottled water. I'm talking about creating a perceived need.
In the early eighties, it seemed that the only bottled water you might find in the local London shops were Perrier and Evian. And then they were only sold at the shops where Corn Flakes was sold for something silly like £5 a mini-box. These luxury corner shops specialised in selling things that nobody actually needed or things that if you did 'need', would be charged 3-4 times the going rate and without shame. Only the very rich and / or the very stupid bothered paying for water in those days.
The exotic source of the water (France - exotic!) and the product's 'purity' seemed to be the appeal to small number of Gold Card holders. Somehow, and seemingly overnight, it became 'hip' to drink water, necessary even. Not just any old water from any old tap. I don't know how it happened (I sort of do, but I'll act stupid), but one day it became obviously unhealthy and unhip if you drank 'agua' provisioned by that ghastly utility company, Thames Water.
As the years went by, more and more brands came to market - SPA (Belgium), Highland Spring (UK), Volvic and Vittel (France). At the same time, I remember the beer market also transforming - again, the origin of the product was the differentiating brand attribute: Stella Artios (Beglium ) and Fosters (Australia) come to mind (as they did regularly in my formative years...). We've seen it happen to the coffee markets more recently - Starbucks anyone?
By 2004, the UK water market alone was worth £1.2 billion. Not bad for a country where water falling out of the sky is considered a standard feature. With all that money streaming out of our pockets, was it any wonder that Coke wanted in? Remember the Danasi fracas? What's funny about that 'PR disaster' is how the people, to their horror(!), realised the Danasi was just tap water taken from the mains with crap added in:
"So now the full scale of Coke's PR disaster is clear. It goes something like this: take Thames Water from the tap in your factory in Sidcup, Kent; put it through a purification process, call it "pure" and give it a mark-up from 0.03p to 95p per half litre; in the process, add a batch of calcium chloride, containing bromide, for "taste profile"; then pump ozone through it, oxidising the bromide - which is not a problem - into bromate - which is. Finally, dispatch to the shops bottles of water containing up to twice the legal limit for bromate (10 micrograms per litre). "
Tap water???? How ghastly! It didn't put Coke off mind you (they tried again with Malvern, this time water out of a hole in the ground), nor has it put off us water-guzzling consumers.
In glorious 2006, the piss-taking just doesn't stop and we're all lapping it up. With respect to water at least, we are all either very rich and / or very stupid. Indeed, today you can now get ripped off Bling stylee at a measly $35 a shot. Super.