From the beginning of time, virtually all life on earth has required water to live. The human body is 60% water. Access to water is a fundamental aspect of daily life. Despite this constant need, brands always seem to be trying desperately to put some fun new spin on water, the ultimate necessity.
Let’s just take a second to acknowledge how insane it is that water, a natural resource that covers the vast majority of our planet, is layered with millions in marketing in order to get us to pay top dollar for it. Here are some of the ways water has been sold to us throughout history.
In the United States, the bottling and selling of water began in 1767, but in Europe it was happening as far back as 1621, reports market research firm BCC Research. Both in the United States and in Europe, the motivation behind bottling water was its “healing” properties.
Going to spas and natural springs was embraced by the wealthier classes, just as it is today. Seeing this rise in popularity, and knowing that people wanted to continue pampering themselves even after leaving the spa, Jackson’s Spa in Boston decided to bottle its natural spring water and sell it. This move kicked off bottled water sales in the U.S. and arguably sparked the perception of bottled water as luxury item that many brands still capitalize on today.
If Jackson’s Spa bottling its water was what sparked the bottled water industry in the U.S., Perrier’s 1977 campaign took water marketing to a whole new level. By the 1970s most American homes had access to free tap water, so why would they want to pay for the bottled stuff?
At the time the commercial above aired, Perrier did not have any sort of reputation among U.S. consumers, though it did come from a natural spring. A top consulting company had studied the fancy French sparkling water and concluded that it would not do well in the U.S, explains Priceonomics. Nevertheless, Gustave Leven and Bruce Nevins, owners of Perrier at the time, rolled out a campaign with narration from Orson Welles that painted Perrier as classy and sophisticated, simultaneously positioning bottled water as a symbol of status in North America.
Flash forward 40 years, and water is still marketed as a status symbol, though it continues to be widely available from the tap. A perfect modern example is Evian Natural Spring Water’s 2018 #LiveYoung ad campaign, which focused on millennials’ playful and progressive attitude and, more importantly, their desire to live life to the fullest. The ads featured bright colors, sleek design, and aspirational photography, and Evian hosted multiple events, spotlighting celebrity ambassadors and using social media influencers to drive water sales.
None of this was to unveil a new version of Evian’s core product. There were no new added electrolytes or nutrients or even flavorings. Instead, this expensive celebration of youth, vitality, and vibrancy was just touting the same old Evian Spring Water, but reminding consumers about the type of person they can be when they drink bottled water.
The 2019 launch of the canned water brand Liquid Death is another great example of marketing dressing up the simplest product to the point where it’s virtually unrecognizable—and in the case of this brand, that’s exactly the point.
“We’re just a funny water company who hates corporate marketing as much as you do,” reads the brand’s About Us page. “Our evil mission is to make people laugh and get more of them to drink more water more often, all while helping to kill plastic pollution.”
Liquid Death’s entire branding approach resembles the heavy-metal aesthetics of a badass energy drink, as far away from traditional water marketing as possible. In fact, metal inspired the design of the cans, even though the water itself is still just water (from the Alps). The brand even releases albums of its own.
Whether you take it bubbly, sparkling, or still, all water serves the same purpose: to hydrate our bodies. No matter what spin these campaigns put on it, we will never not need drinking water. Water will always be cool—no need to try to make it hip.