The marketing magic that drives thirst for bottled water


D’Amore-McKim School of Business Associate Professor Bruce Clark believes the popularity of bottled sparking- and still water is a testament to the power of promotion, as the sales of the largely free commodity continue to grow.

“Water is a huge industry essentially created from nothing,” said Clark. “It’s an example of what marketing can do with a product that’s fairly undifferentiated, and quite honestly, fairly boring.”

Clark points to both successful marketing tactics, such as those used by the skyrocketing popularity of seltzer water, and setbacks, like the recent class-action lawsuit against Poland Spring.

“At its most fundamental, a brand name is building a set of associations in customers’ minds,” he said. “‘Poland Spring,’ for example, sounds healthy, pure, and nice. ‘Industrial Runoff’ probably wouldn’t sell as well.”

Through brand associations, customers create expectations based on the name, such as with Poland Spring. Customers believe, because of the name, it should come from a spring, not from the ground like their lawsuit alleges.

Clark also highlights the “chicken-and-egg” scenario in water marketing, as buying bottled water is essentially paying for something that is free and accessible in the U.S.

“The benefits of bottled water are sold a few different ways: purity, health, and convenience,” he said. “And the convenience aspect is often overlooked. Think about it: Thirty years ago, you had to find a water fountain if you were thirsty. Now, you can just walk into any store, pick a bottle, and drink some water. Are there fewer water fountains now because people are just buying more water? Or are people buying more water because there are fewer fountains?”

Read more of Clark’s on News@Northeastern.