To a Saharan desert inhabitant, the display right before my eyes would have been no short of the promised land, the seventh of all heavens. Organized before me were rows, columns, and grids of bottles of ice cold water. One could imagine, had they never been accustomed to the lifestyle of the so called westerners, that these bottles would be in clear plastic containers, without any labels or colors of any kind. It is only water after all – what more needs to be said? What purpose would any labels or packaging serve?
Each row of bottles had their own unique label stickered on to them, with varying tones and colors, shapes and sizes, prices and appeal. Some seemed fancier than the others, and more expensive, and others seemed they were priced to sell. Surprisingly, not a single bottle was devoid of a label. Not a single one of these clear, water inhabited bottles could speak for themselves.
And it only gets worse. My friends and I were on a road trip to the great Michigan Dunes, when we were all dying of thirst and decided to make a pit stop at one of those supersize tourist gas stations. It was the Mecca of our short two hour air conditioned pilgrimage. We spared none as we violently made our way to the back, reaching the sacred refrigerators just two seconds before we died from absolute dehydration. (Did I mention how comfortable the car ride over was?). Now, one would think, being in the dire situation we were in, that we would all violently topple over each other and blindly reach for the closest bottle of water available. One, who might not be too familiar with the Western way, might imagine that after grabbing the closest and cheapest non-labeled bottle of water, that we impetuously tore open the bottle and consumed it’s replenishing contents without a second to spare. This is not what happened.
We reached the refrigerators, and all three of us stood and paused. We placed our palm in our chins and our index finger across our cheek as we began to think about which of these water bottles best suited our personality.
After a long and grueling analytical shakedown, we reconvened and by chance formed a triangle where we were all holding our water bottles in hand. We had all unanimously chosen the cheapest and only unlabeled water bottles in the store. No just kidding I chose Smart Water, my friend chose Fiji, and my other friend chose Dasani. Neither of these were the least expensive of the variety. I broke out in laughter. My god. How pathetic and brainwashed we have become. It was the epitome of our slavery to brands and their brainwashing marketing.
This whole time, I thought I was aware and infallible to the cunning tactics used by marketers. This whole time I thought that I was myself a marketer, and that I always knew when I was being conned and sold to. But I had subconsciously fell for the dirtiest of all marketing ploys: the branding of water. I had chosen the most expensive brand of water, simply because I truly thought Smart Water was smart, that it had something to it. How ridiculously pathetic of me. I felt ashamed and dirty. I was the “average consumer” that marketing studies would always refer to. I was a statistic.
I would not let that be my fate. I went back and got the cheapest water bottle there was. It still had a label, but it was a step in the right direction.
Sometimes, we’re not educated enough about a product to make a clear and unbiased purchasing decision. So we go for the one with the best and most colorful packaging. But water? Come on. If we fall for water marketing, we’ll fall for anything. Let’s start here.