There is an advert running on the Radio at the moment from Volvic saying that for every litre of their bottled water you buy, they will fund 10 litres of water in Africa (more info here). Quite apart from the low need, and environmental issues for bottled water, this feels like it plays right into the hands of natural biases that people. That irritates, since people hear those advertising messages that play upon their biases so often then it can only amplify their misunderstandings.
So, what is it about the Volvic ad that annoys me? It seeks to equate the litre of bottled water with the 10 litres of water in Africa, and since it’s all water (albeat one form bottled), it sounds very generous. Look how much you help by buying the Volvic water. 1 to 10 – 1000%. But, put in monetary terms (based on US contribution – can’t find UK), it’s about 2p per litre, or 5% at best. That’s more than I expected, to be fair to Volvic. But, it means that one could just as accurately say that for every litre of Volvic (or other similar water) you drink rather than using tap water and donating the money, you sacrifice 200 litres in Africa (well, 190 for Volvic, but really it makes hardly any difference). It doesn’t sound nearly as good does it?
The challenge of course is that people would rarely do that switch directly. But, given that bottled water is very rarely necessary, and certainly not from a supermarket, it pains me that people are being encouraged not to do the switch and contribute, but to buy bottled water for the tiny tiny contribution it makes. The way it is positioned directly plays on the biases people have by not making the right comparison, and in doing so only serves to embed those biases more.
Volvic’s head of marketing says – “We hope that the whole of the UK will get behind Volvic and World Vision and support 1L-for-10L”. If it lifts sales of bottled water rather than just moving share then I really rather hope it doesn’t – the £1.59 billion spent on bottled water in the UK (£300 million on Volvic) already seems quite enough, when the use of tap water for those 2 billion litres would cost only £2.5 million. Think what the £1.5 billion could do in Africa? The difference is almost obscene.
If you do want to donate directly, you could go to http://www.wateraid.org/uk/donate/default.asp , and there are probably other places as well. And, as a reminder on the concerns around the impact of bottled water, there’s been quite a bit of press that is uncomplimentary to say the least – e.g. The Telegraph, and The Guardian.