Environmental group’s campaign of wry lies against bottled water

NYTimes logo jpeg Tappening, a group opposed to the environmental consequences of Americans' love for bottled water has begun a new marketing initiative that aggressively targets the companies for lying to the public (similar to the themes of the anti-tobacco Truth campaign).

Posted July 29, 2009
By Stephanie Clifford, NYTimes.com

Can an ad campaign turn bottled water into the new tobacco?

Bottled water ad Taking
a cue from anti-tobacco campaigns, Tappening, a group opposed to
bottled water on environmental grounds, has introduced a campaign
called "Lying in Advertising" that positions bottled water companies as
spreading corporate untruths.

One poster claims "Bottled Water
Causes Blindness in Puppies," while another reads "Bottled Water: 98
Percent Melted Ice Caps. 2 Percent Polar Bear Tears."

"If bottled water companies can lie, we can too," the posters read.

The
"lies" in question here are about the source of bottled water. Eric
Yaverbaum, a co-founder of Tappening, charged that some beverage
companies did not list the source of their water — and were using only
municipal water.

The Tappening effort is reminiscent of
anti-smoking ads from Truth, the American Legacy Foundation campaign
that fights youth smoking. But while the Tappening campaign has an
environmental element, it has something the anti-tobacco lobbyists do
not: a competing product of its own.

The campaign was started
almost two years ago by two marketing executives, in part to
demonstrate their marketing skills but also to promote their own
reusable water bottles.

Yaverbaum and his Tappening co-founder,
Mark DiMassimo, chief executive of the advertising agency DIGO Brands,
each contributed $100,000 toward Tappening's founding, including a Web
site, advertising campaigns and producing reusable bottles.

Sold out

After
they introduced Tappening in November 2007, Yaverbaum said, they sold
out of bottles within five days. So far, he said, Tappening has sold
about $5 million worth of the bottles, and profits go into producing
more bottles and further advertising.

"We got a lot of flack
for making so much money, which I kind of find interesting," Yaverbaum
said. "Everyone thought, 'Oh, that's so terrible, they're making so
much money.' And to me, it's a great model to encourage corporate
America, the Fortune 1,000, to go out and do something that can be good
for the environment."

In this campaign, Tappening plans to
spend $535,000 on outdoor posters in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas,
Chicago and Miami, along with an online component. The ads suggest
viewers go to Tappening.com to find out "the truth" about bottled water, or to StartALie.com to spread an untruth.

Joseph
K. Doss, chief executive of the International Bottled Water
Association, an industry group, said Tappening's charges were unfair.
"We certainly would disagree with the premise that bottled water
companies lie in their advertising. Like all products, bottled water
ads must be truthful and nonmisleading," he said. Even when beverage
companies use municipal water, he said, the water is purified and
bottled under sanitary conditions.

Yaverbaum, who is also CEO
of the public relations firm Ericho Communications, argues that when
individuals replace bottled water with tap water, "One, you can save
money. And two, you don't have to fill up landfills with plastic
bottles that are going to be there for 1,000 years after you've gone,
not to mention the oil that's used to make those bottles,to truck
those bottles, to refrigerate those bottles, all to get a product that
is, give or take, the same thing you're getting out of a tap."

Yaverbaum
said bottle sales were not his primary focus — bottles from Sigg or
Nalgene were around long before the Tappening bottles were, and are
just as good, he said. His point was just to get people to drink more
tap water.

Sales decline

Along with the environmental message and the bottle sales, Tappening
lets the two executives be their own client. "We're both able to flex
our marketing muscle and our marketing prowess and experience without
anybody getting in the way," Yaverbaum said. "I probably don't have too
many clients who would've approved this campaign. It's abrasive,to say
the least."

While bottled water sales declined in 2008, it was
not necessarily for environmental reasons. Bottled water sales fell for
the first time on record, declining 1 percent, according to Beverage
Marketing, a consulting group.

"Our primary belief is that the
vast majority is the economy, and the environmental questions probably
have had some impact, but I would say secondarily," said Gary A.
Hemphill, managing director. Besides, he said, sales of individually
sized bottled water (as compared to home- or office-delivered water)
actually increased slightly in 2008, rising 0.3 percent. Those small
bottles tended to compete not with tap water but with other beverages,
like sodas or teas.

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