Benefit versus Spin

Driving down the expressway, a new billboard caught my eye, as new billboards always do. Good advertising or design makes me smile and great creative makes me positively giddy.
I was not giddy about this one.
This billboard showed a plastic water bottle rising out of leaves, like a corn cob from the husks. The copy read “Designed to Make a Difference.” And it made me ill.
My mantra to clients is “show the buyer the benefit”, “we must communicate the benefit”, “it’s got to be about the benefit.” In all cases, with all my clients, I feel very good about what we’re selling, believing the products and services I help promote actually do help the buyers. We talk about the benefit.
But there is benefit and there is spin, which implies a lie, and this billboard falls solidly, with an almighty kerthunk, into the spin/lie category. Being rather (okay, really a great deal of) a treehugger, I am and continue to be absolutely appalled by the Greatest Marketing Evil Scam of All Time – that of selling bottled water.
Water – cleaned, safe and reliable water – comes to the vast majority of Americans via pipes, right into their homes. It’s what our frontier ancestors dreamed of! Unlike bottled water, it is regulated and tested. It is a fraction of the cost. Unlike bottled water, it does not absorb cancer-causing chemicals from a plastic container. Unlike bottled water, it does not require petroleum products to package, it does not require petroleum to delivery to the store and petroleum to be hauled home. (Feel a shake in the universe? It’s those ancestors slapping their foreheads at the behavior of their offspring’s offspring.)
Bottled water is not good for us. Period. It is bad for our health, it is murder on our wallets, it is catastrophic for our fossil fuel consumption and it is an absolute nightmare for the environment and landfills. There is no benefit. Marketing this “new” bottle as some kind of “good for the environment” choice is a lie, plain and simple.
Remember when cigarettes were promoted as a health product? For a substantial period of time, experts really believed that, so, in fairness, we can give those early ads a pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card. That marketing – prompted by laws – changed dramatically, albeit slowly, over the years. Now, there are fewer and fewer ads for smoking at all – and the graphic new packages try to convince smokers to quit.
Perhaps that’s what’s needed for bottled water – for legislators to quickly stand up for the environment and for our health. Perhaps we need warning labels about how future generations will be drowning in these ubiquitous containers, how teeth will rot from lack of fluoride, how cancer rates will increase. Perhaps the scariest warning would be a vision that gas (petroleum) could be $10 a gallon.
The bottled water marketing that is happening now is not selling a benefit, no matter how “green” the bottle is purported to be. It’s barely even a spin. It’s just lying.