Now here’s a marketing coup.
Imagine a commodity that is supplied cheaply, safely and to a high standard to every house in our society, through a sustainable infrastructure network. Now imagine an attempt to market this commodity in much smaller, portable packages. Imagine that this new version will have a price tag several thousand times that of the supply to your home; that its standard will be unregulated; and that it will be packaged in a way that potentially damages the environment, and has to be transported to shops, and from the shops to home.
Disaster? Not a bit of it. For this is the story of bottled water, one of the more obviously absurd consumerist fads of our time.
This phenomenon is examined by Elizabeth Royte in her new book Bottlemania: How water went on sale and why we bought it. An extract published by Alternet can be found here.
Royte’s thesis is that the reasons for the success of bottled water are, in essence, laziness and impatience. This has, as in so many areas of life, led to the effective privatisation of water consumption (as distinct from the actual privatisation of the supply of water, which of course happened in the UK some years ago). And it’s about narcissism, an increasing obsession with hygeine and sterility, and the use of the water bottle as security blanket.
And it is of course about the power of the market to provide us with – and to persuade us to part with our hard-earned cash for – something that is superfluous, a lifestyle accessory; in this case a necessity of life, once provided as a public service, provided more expensively and wastefully by the free market.