Hustle and Flow


The Tappening Web site urges all visitors -- more than 400,000 of them to date -- to write a message saying "I'm switching to tap water," and place it in a plastic water bottle that will be sent to the Tappening founders. When DiMassimo and Yaverbaum amass 1 million of these messages, they will send the package to incoming Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent on his first day on the job this July. So far, they have collected just under 100,000 bottles.

The issue for the Tappening folks lies in the label. The advocacy group Corporate Accountability International claims credit for prompting Pepsi to agree last July to change its Aquafina label to state its product "originates from public water sources." Pepsi says the company was already in the process of making the change, which will appear on its label in the next few months.

"We're simply explaining the purification process from start to finish," says Pepsi-Cola North America spokeswoman Michelle Naughton. "Pepsi has been a leader in giving consumers more information on our product labels and this is just another example."

Corporate Accountability also asked Pepsi to remove from the Aquafina label the picture of a mountain, which implies a pure spring water source for the product, because it considers the image "an emblem of just how misleading bottled water marketing can be," says Corporate Accountability spokesman Nick Guroff. Pepsi has not agreed to do so.

So far, Coke has not yielded to pressure regarding the disclosure of its water source. It's sticking with the word "purified" on its Dasani label, which is a standard established by the Food and Drug Administration. Nowhere on the label does it say that Dasani also comes from tap water sources, an omission the Tappening founders consider deceptive. (Dasani is made from tap water that is put through a carbon filtration process, which takes out some ingredients and adds minerals. Aquafina uses a similar method.)

"We think purified water describes what the product is," says Lee Underwood, Coke's issues manager. He adds that the company's commitment to the environment can be seen in its building of "the world's largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant" in Spartanburg, S.C.

As for Tappening's "send a message" campaign, Underwood says the actual shipment of the bottles will result in "transportation-related energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions." But Underwood assured that any empty bottles received would be recycled.

The Tappening campaign is not supported with paid advertising to get its message out. The Web site and the viral buzz it generates, along with a few press releases, are it. They are also getting "free media," which to date includes Associated Press and business press articles, radio interviews and national television appearances. Trend-watcher Jane Buckingham appeared on Good Morning America on the first show of the new year to say that the "hip, new, reusable water bottles" from Tappening will be "hot" this year. The Tappening founders also sent sample bottles to celebrities as part of a "celebrity-seeding" program, Yaverbaum says. Celebrities who have received the bottles include Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria and Scarlett Johansson.

To educate themselves before launching the effort, DiMassimo and Yaverbaum watched a documentary called Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home. They have since contributed money to help distribute the film and also promote it on the Tappening site. Yaverbaum became more conscious about environmental issues when his 16-year-old daughter, Cole, asked, "Daddy, what are you doing about the environment?" Cole made him change the lightbulbs at home. She also wouldn't set foot in his gas-guzzling SUV.

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