Bottled water ads tap into our desire for immortality

A fear of dying plays a role in our decision to buy bottled water, even though we know it may not be good for us or the planet, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

The study suggests that most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products. Bottled water ads specifically trigger our most subconscious fear – driving people around the world to buy hundreds of billions of litres of water annually.

“Bottled water advertisements play on our greatest fears in two important ways,” Stephanie Cote, who conducted the research while a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, said in a statement. “Our mortality fears make us want to avoid risks and, for many people, bottled water seems safer somehow, purer or controlled.

“There is also a deeper subconscious force at work here, one that caters to our desire for immortality.”

According to a report from Zion Market Research, the global bottled water market was valued at around $170 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $280 billion by 2020.

The Canadian researchers analyzed data drawn from the content of bottled water campaigns and advertisements, websites, photographs, and videos that revealed implicit and explicit meanings. They also examined how anti-bottled water campaigns have trouble competing with corporate bottled water messaging.

“Our results demonstrate that corporate campaigns appeal to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status,” said Sarah Wolfe, a University of Waterloo researcher. “Pro-bottle water advertisements rely heavily on branding, celebrity, and feel-good emotions that trigger our group identities and patriotism.”

The study suggests that if public and non-governmental organizations want to be more successful in promoting the benefits of municipal drinking water systems, they will need to use new tactics that are “emotionally stirring and speak to more than just the financial, ethical and environmental benefits of tap water”.

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