Sample Essay On Bottled Water: Reality And Myths
Although at first glance it seems to be quite a harmless industry manufacturing products which most consumers consider healthy, it appears that bottling business borders on legitimate fraud. Bottled water’s natural origin, its exceptional healing properties, and, what is essential, its high price are imposed on consumers since, firstly, businessmen make a fortune selling people their own property, and secondly, they deceive consumers by means of professional advertizing. In their articles, C. Barnett and P. H. Gleick have similar arguments about bottling business: they both claim that it is to a great extent based on deception and fraud, and that it thrives on manipulation. However, they argue it in different aspects: while the former author focuses more on bottling business itself, underlying the peculiarities of its functioning and questioning its necessity, the latter reveals the tricks of advertizing applied by bottling companies, discussing discrepancies between what properties are ascribed to bottled water and what really exists. They both draw attention to the problem that, in the majority of cases, consumers are completely ignorant about the real situation, in this way falling victim to ingenious businessmen. All in all, their arguments rather supplement each other, creating a whole picture of bottling business. Drawn together, the authors’ claims completely destroy the myths about bottled water.
Bottled water consummation has rapidly increased in recent years. Some attribute this fact to the “outbreak of cryptosporidium in Wisconsin tap water” (Barnett 130) which caused people to begin drinking water from more reliable sources. However, it is only the tip of the iceberg. The real reason, concealed for obvious purposes, is that the idea of giving preference to bottled water is artificially imposed on American society. People are manipulated into believing that they need this product, which results in enormous profits for bottling companies, and has a negative impact on customers’ own budget.
First of all, in what does bottling business consist? Roughly speaking, it all comes down to selling consumers the product which should inherently belong to them. This was definitely recognized by people at the very beginning of bottling companies’ development in America. The companies faced opposition from local residents and nature defenders who stated that they were not willing to give away the resources which they considered to be their property; that aquatic resources affected the development of tourism, which was in the list of economic priorities at the places. Such rebellious moods had their results: some companies were not allowed to develop particular springs (for example, Big Springs and Mecan Springs) (Barnett 132-134). However, companies did not surrender their attempts to find an appropriate place, and they succeeded: in Florida, officials did not resist. Today this state is the place where such large American water-bottling companies as Nestlé, Atlanta-based CCDA Waters, and DS Waters of America are situated (Barnett 130). And nowadays, local residents reap the fruits of the former authorities’ decision, suffering water rate hikes and having natural resources polluted by bottling plants’ activity. What is interesting, history repeats itself: they are, like their predecessors, rightfully indignant about “corporations taking our water for free and selling it back to us for a huge profit” (Barnett 144), although the companies’ representatives deny such accusations stating that developing springs and going through bureaucracy are costly processes. Unfortunately, residents’ complaints are usually not satisfied at official level.
The deception does not end here. The quality of bottled water is another crucial question to consider. As a rule, it claims to be drawn from natural springs and have properties which tap water is devoid of; it is presented to consumers not only as a healthier and more prestigious tap water’s counterpart, but also as a cure for many diseases. Most consumers who have different problems with mental and physical health find it very convenient to resort to drinking bottled water instead of undergoing professional treatment (Gleick 114), gullibly believing in its miraculous properties. Such an imprudent behaviour may lead to the aggravation of their problems since emphasized advantages of bottled water are nothing more than mere exaggeration and, what is more serious, fraud. Millions of people succumb to this deception, and the explanation is simple: successful advertizing.
A great commercial success of water bottling companies has been achieved due to hard work of advertisers. By means of psychological pressure, potential customers are persuaded that a particular product is capable of making them healthier, prettier, younger etc. Such influence, which functions on both conscious and unconscious levels, is exerted over their minds by the following things: formulation of bright bottled water names, creating slogans, appropriate labeling, and coming up with compelling text of an advertisement. These must attract customers’ attention without arousing their suspicion. Bottled water names are usually “decorated” with vivid epithets that have a tantalizing effect on consumers’ imagination, e.g. “positive-energy water”, “magnetized water”, “improved fractal-design water”, “clustered water” etc. As P. H. Gleick notes, “If you can come up with two or more pseudoscientific, hyphenated words – some of them adjectives and one of them “water” – you too can market bottled water as a miracle cure” (Gleick 114). The same concerns slogans – they are formulated in such a way that makes customers associate the brand name with the notions like youth, health, beauty etc. (for example, “The oldest way to stay young”) (Gleick 110). As for labels, they must depict things as attractively as possible. However, in most cases, the picture on the label does not correspond to the real state of things: often the source of particular bottled water is definitely not the one depicted on the label (Barnett 138). And regarding the text of the advertisements, it includes persuasive promises about healing properties of bottled water, which one cannot expect to come true. What makes things worse is that places where pseudo-scientific claims for supernatural properties of bottled water can be found are ubiquitous – health stores, printed literature, the Internet etc. The last on this list has a special role. According to P. H. Gleick, the Internet is a perfect mechanism of providing false information about bottled water since it is “far from the reach of our legal systems” (Gleick 115).
As a rule, names, slogans, labels, and advertisements’ texts are completely misleading. Naturally, they are all methods of manipulation, and they have an enormous impact on consumers. However, manufacturers’ unrealistic claims can be easily defeated, by both logical reasoning and scientific study.
Firstly, it is possible to question the very notion of “natural spring” bottled water, highly praised by companies. The belief that bottled water is drawn right from the spring is false. As C. Barnett states, “In several cases, the wells of springwater companies are thousands of feet from the actual spring” (Barnett 137). For example, the water bottled by Nestlé at the Madison Blue plant is pumped not only from Madison Blue itself, but also from other springs, namely Cypress Springs and White Springs (Barnett 142). Moreover, it is worth remembering that water, even having been drawn from a spring, undergoes long processes of transportation, sterilization, and packaging at bottling plants. Evidently, it loses some of its magic properties.
Secondly, another opinion imposed on people by means of effective advertizing is an exceptional taste of bottled water, which makes it seem to consumers more preferable to water running from tap. It is commonly accepted that municipal water has worse taste than its bottled counterpart. However, according to the results of some taste tests, consumers cannot distinguish between bottled and tap water (Barnett 139). What is amazing is that “both types of water met state and federal water-quality regulations” (Barnett 141). Thus, it turns out that people pay much more for the same thing.
Thirdly, consumers’ idea that bottled water is healthier than tap water due to disinfection processes which it undergoes is also erroneous. On the one hand, excessive particles of different nature, microorganisms etc. contained in spring (as they call it) water are indeed removed. On the other hand, disinfection itself, unfortunately, is not safe: its byproducts, contained in the water, can cause cancer. These are, for example, trihalomethanes (THMs) and bromate (Barnett 140). The latter is produced in the process of ozonation, when harmless chemicals are transformed into harmful ones: bromide ion, naturally occurring in springs, can turn into carcinogenic bromate. Thus, carcinogenic disinfection byproducts may be found in bottled water (Barnett 140). Such news is quite unexpected, and most consumers are ignorant about them.
Fourthly, consumers’ preferences are shown to bottle water due to its miraculous healing properties. Some manufacturers (not necessarily leading bottling companies) claim that their products are exceptional cures for diseases and other problems, illustrating their words with pseudo-scientific evidence. P. H. Gleick provides several examples of such bottled waters revealing the truth about them.
Another example of such fraud is bottled water weight-loss scams. In this case, manufacturers use the obsession with being slim which has an important role in American society. As P. H. Gleick argues, people are not willing to go on a diet or do physical exercises, preferring much easier and expensive method, namely drinking magical bottled water (Gleick 121). However, although such water can indeed cause weight loss, it is not its own merit. Drinking large amounts of any water suppresses appetite and, consequently, may lead to weight loss. And there is nothing supernatural about that.
In some cases, manufacturers’ claims are truly ridiculous: according to some of them, water crystals can change their form and nature depending on certain conditions, namely on being exposed to either good or bad environments. Thus, water molecules can be “magnetically, or electrically, or otherwise magically rearranged” (Gleick 126) by manufacturers, who sell a miraculous product to consumers. The same concerns Penta water that “ has been reduced to its purest state in nature – smaller clusters of H2O molecules” (Gleick 127), thus it moves more quickly in the bloodstream. These statements are unproved pseudoscientific nonsense, although many consumers tend to believe in it. P. H. Gleick provides eloquent quotation by L. F. Kamtz who said, “Electricity and magnetism are those forces of nature by which people who know nothing about electricity and magnetism can explain everything” (Gleick 124). In other words, ignorance often borders on gullibility.
Obvious advantages and supernatural properties of bottled water have been put in doubt by the results of many studies and experiments. Individuals like James Randi (Gleick 115) challenge manufacturers by promising them prizes if they succeed in proving their claims. However, the results of such attempts to open consumers’ eyes to the truth have not been popularized among typical consumers. What concerns defending consumers’ rights at the national level, bottling business is supposed to be monitored by such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC). The former regulates “the source, safety, and labeling of bottled water” (Barnett 131); however, it does not accomplish its task successfully, giving priority to more dangerous food plants. According to C. Barnett, the content of bottled water is almost not controlled by any authorities; what is checked is only the official approval to withdraw water (Barnett 130). The activity of the latter, monitoring “general advertizing fraud” (Gleick 116), is also not efficient enough; its successes are rather infrequent. As a result, people live under the illusion that bottled water is a tasty, healthy, necessary, healing product which makes their lives more comfortable and better. And the harsh reality is that bottled water, in the majority of cases, is nothing more than simple tap water. To be more precise, very expensive tap water.
Why are consumers so easily deceived? Advertising is a powerful thing, but there should be something more. Experts state that product’s content is simply not important to people. What they seek is comfort, status, and prestige. According to J. Twitchell, “We’re not buying a bottle of water. We are buying a sensation about ourselves” (Barnett 141). Therefore, there is no need to think, analyze, and make conclusions about what is imposed by businessmen and advertisers. It may take a long time for consumers to learn to think individually and not succumb to a mass psychosis.
Barnettt, Cynthia. “Business in a Bottle.” Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the
Eastern U.S. Ann Arbor, MI.U of Michigan P, 2007. 128-144. Print.
Gleick, Peter H. “Selling Bottled Water: The Modern Medicine Show.” Bottled and sold: The
Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. Washington DC: Island Press,
2011. 109-130. Print.
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