Hustle and Flow

Americans spend nearly $12 billion a year on bottled water because they think it is a cleaner, more convenient product than tap water. Many young people and high-income consumers also think there is a certain cachet associated with buying bottled water. But several top-selling brands, including Dasani and Aquafina, originate from local municipal water supplies, not pristine alpine springs, and the plastic bottles are damaging to the environment. That’s why the adman and public relations expert behind the “Tappening” campaign want to turn the tide in favor of the faucet. Their mission: Make tap water cool again.

They are not the only ones out there who believe their efforts will add up to results.

Droga5 produced the Tap Project for New York City restaurants last year to encourage diners to donate $1 every time they ordered tap water instead of bottled. That effort will roll out in more than a dozen cities this month. The money goes to Unicef efforts to provide clean drinking water in third-world countries.

If successful, these programs have the potential to cut into the lucrative, high-margin bottled water business.

Eric Yaverbaum, president of the PR firm Ericho Communications, and Mark DiMassimo, founder of New York agency DIGO, have teamed up to create the pro-tap water campaign. They, along with other marketing experts, consider the selling of the American public on bottled water to be one of the all-time greatest marketing coups.

“People drink single-use bottled water because they think the water is cleaner and that they are doing something good for themselves,” Yaverbaum says. “It is 100 percent branding, advertising and PR, and it is also 100 percent untrue.”

In study after study, bottled water is shown to be no safer than tap water, which is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. refers people to a national tap water database maintained by the Environmental Working Group, where viewers can determine the quality of the tap water they drink.

Consider Tappening, launched in November, a form of business philanthropy. Founded to right a perceived wrong, the campaign is also a business that sells reusable, well-designed hard plastic and stainless-steel water bottles via Priced at $14.95 each, the bottles bear the slogans, “Think Global, Drink Local” and “What’s Tappening?” The campaign will release a new bottle in about six weeks that will read, “I bottle my own water.”

The site lists some of the negative consequences of bottled water. Producing disposable plastic water bottles requires 47 million gallons of oil each year, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Then the bottles clog up our landfills because even though they are 100 percent recyclable, 75 percent end up being tossed out with the garbage.

The effort also is coordinating an advocacy group-style attack on Coca-Cola through its “send a message in a bottle to the bottled water industry” effort.

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.