By Monica Gautier//
ABSTRACT// The bottled water industry has come at an enormous expense to the environment. The BC Ministry of Environment is looking for ways to change this polluting habit. This paper examines one solution to this environmental problem.
Research shows that people choose bottled water because they believe it is a safe and convenient, quality product. Moreover, the research revealed (people’s) misconceptions surrounding the quality of Vancouver’s water. A proposed solution to this problem is Project V-Tap, a branding campaign promoting tap water as a safe, convenient, costless alternative. The project is intended to change people’s behavior by creating a positive message about Vancouver’s drinking water. In turn this will create a more sustainable environment.
KEYWORDS// Bottled Water, Tap Water, Vancouver, Sustainability, Branding, Design for Social Change.
INTRODUCTION// The twenty-first century is a period of massive consumption, which contributes to the alarming rate of global warming. Today, even our tap water is being bottled and sold back to the public at a profit. Society needs to urgently reconsider its choices as bottled water has significant negative affects the environment. Project V-Tap is a proposal designed to urge people to drink tap water instead of bottled water. This paper discusses the research process regarding Project V-Tap, including its campaign strategy, and the socio-cultural factors that influence brand loyalty.
RESEARCH QUESTION// How does one change people’s perceptions about drinking tap water?
Research process// In order to find a solution, it is important to thoroughly investigate the problem. The first part of this project was done with Lovisa Nersing, my research partner. We wanted to investigate why people chose bottled water over tap water.
Collecting Information// Our first step was to visit the reservoir at Mount Seymour. After getting a guided tour, we learned that Vancouver has one of the best tap waters in the world. We also met with City Counselor Tim Stevenson who explained his eagerness to reduce bottled water consumption.
Interviews// The next step was to interview bottled water consumers, mainly tourists. We interviewed the staff of the Tourist Info Center and different hotels about their water policy. The data revealed the following:
1. People want information about tap water when they are in an unfamiliar environment. They rely on friends and the media to guide their decision making.
2. Most believe that the quality of bottled water is superior to tap water. A study made by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 47% of respondents said they drank bottled water because they saw health and safety problems with tap water (Renewing Commitment to Public Water, 2008, ¶2).
3. The act of purchasing is reassuring; consumers trust the security of brand names.
4. Personal health is rated higher than preserving the environment. People are unaware of the damage consuming bottled water causes.
The last step of the research process was to engage with co-creators to learn about how drinking water is perceived. We chose three tourists as our co-creators: Mary Jo from Palm Springs, Erik from Sweden and Jean from Edmonton. After signing a release form, they took part in our prepared activity which consisted of a fold out map. A blue sticker was placed in the areas they consumed water and a red sticker in the places they visited throughout their stay. This got them in the right mind-set for our collage session (Fig. 4). The purpose of this exercise was to initiate a dialogue about feelings towards water. Unfortunately, the results were arbitrary and the process was very time consuming. However, Mary Jo mentioned that her water consumption habits have changed during her life and could change again depending on information she received regarding her health. This was an interesting statement which I took into account while brainstorming for ideas.
DESIGN FOR SOCIETY//
As we started the ideation process, Lovisa and I went our separate ways. I started to reflect about what I had learned through our research. In my opinion, the problem could not be solved by creating a new kind of vessel. The answer was not in a product, but in a message.
Convincing people that tap water is safe and convenient to drink is the only way to change consumption habits on a long term basis. Branding Vancouver’s tap water and creating an extensive communication campaign is the key to reversing the bottled water trend.
In order for this project to be successful, the initiative must go beyond the individual and become a city wide effort. For example, local shops can put up a V-Tap sticker in their window, meaning that pedestrians and cyclists can enter to refill their water bottles. They gain public approval and create a wave of potential clients. Another idea is to facilitate tap water access by highlighting water fountains in public places on existing signage. This reassures sceptics because they recognize the V-Tap brand and trust the quality of the product (Fig. 1). Metro Vancouver and the BC Ministry of Environment have to get on board as well. It is their ethical responsibility to get the project off the ground by finding funds, developing the program with a team of experts and implementing it throughout the city.
A Consumer Society// Consumers are fueling the economy more than ever before. People feel indebted to buy products which they want, but do not really need. The media sends the message that our emotional desires (self-worth, sexuality, confidence, etc.) can only be filled by a purchase. Today our identity is created by the products we buy and bottled water companies are aware of this. Consequently, they market the added value of their product, from its beautiful packaging to its supposed health benefits (Palmeri, 2009). Consumers subconsciously ask: what does this type of water say about my values as an individual? Often, buying bottled water is more about a social status than it is about quenching a thirst.
Assessing Values// Constantly reminded how dangerous the world around us is, shoppers want to feel in control. They take extra precautions when it comes to their three most important values: family, health and safety. Money, or the environment for that matter, are only secondary. A brand has to share and communicate these values to create a strong consumer relationship (Healey, 2008).
Communicating a Brand Message//
According to Business Week, the bigger an advertising budget, the stronger a brand becomes (Palmeri, 2009). Frequent exposure to it creates more impressions on a person, which in turn creates more responses. For this reason, many marketing strategies are developed to increase the consumer awareness, such as product placement (Fig. 3). However, developing a visual identity is not enough. V-Tap needs to have more scope. Having exhibitions and advertisements scattered around the city can better inform the public about their tap water and increase the brand’s visibility (Fig. 2). This strategy is essential to the branding project.
DESIGNING A COMMUNICATION CAMPAIGN//
What is a Brand?// A brand is not something tangible. As Matthew Healey affirms in his book What is Branding, it is the idea of the product as it exists in the mind of the consumer. This “reputation” is influenced by advertising where an affectionate bond is created with the brand. Consumer behavior is emotional, not rational. “People create brands to bring order out of clutter” (Neumeier, 2007). Brands make a product stand out. Interestingly, people think that a branded item is superior to one that is not, so branding tap water is very relevant. The quality previously associated with the branded bottled water can also be associated to tap water.
Strategic Design Choices//
Tap water’s visual identity must have an aesthetic that inspires confidence while being easily distinguishable (Fig. 5). I chose cyan blue as the primary color for V-Tap because it is a colour which stands out and symbolically refers to clean water. Yellow and green have an association with pollution, red with danger, etc. The logo depicts a drop of water. I intended it to be literal, not symbolic. Everything about V-Tap’s brand is straight forward in order to communicate to a multi-cultural audience of all ages that tap water is a safe and healthy choice. Hence the choice of the typeface (Typ1451), which is friendly and readable.
REFLECTION// Not only does this project offer a realistic solution to the problem of bottled water, but it does so by using knowledge that already exists. It is a matter of presenting it in the right way. Initially, I wanted to explore an Industrial Design concept to divert from my background in Graphic Design. When I chose the branding idea, I was worried that it was going to be all about the style. To my surprise, V-Tap became a social design concept, a reflection about society and its values. My biggest challenge was knowing where to set limits. There were so many avenues to explore, so many opportunities to uncover. There was not enough time to do everything I wanted. I chose to cover the most areas possible, therefore only skimming the surface of each idea.
This project showed me that designers are versatile thinkers and should not limit projects to their area of expertise. If I were to start again, I would want to team up with someone who has a different background than mine. It would be great to benefit from different skill set. From here, I would like to get a team together to start bringing this project to life: creating a formal proposal, establishing a budget, finding funds, setting up a test case and then implementing it in the city.
CONCLUSION// This project offers a simple solution to a complex problem. Research shows that people are concerned with the quality and safety of drinking tap water. The high quality of Vancouver’s tap water can be illustrated through information campaigns and exhibitions. While bottled water may be convenient, it is not sustainable. The V-Tap campaign is one solution encouraging a sustainable lifestyle by drinking tap water and consequently less affect on the environment.
1. Gregory, J. R. (1998). The Impact of Advertising on Brand Power. The Impact of Advertising on Brand Momentum, 17. Stanford: Business Week. Retrieved March 13, 2009, from http://www.google.ca/search?hl=fr&q=The+Impact+of+Advertising+on+Brand+Power&btnG=Rechercher&meta=.
2. Healey, M. (2008). What Is Branding? Essential design handbooks. Mies, Switzerland: RotoVision, 256.
3. Neumeier, M., & American Institute of Graphic Arts. (2007). Zag: The Number-One Strategy of High-Performance Brands: A Whiteboard Overview. Berkeley, Calif: AIGA, 178.
4. Palmeri, C., & Byrnes, N. (2009). Coke and Pepsi Try Reinventing Water. BusinessWeek. (4121), 58. doi: Article.
5. Renewing Commitment to Public Water. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from http://takebackthetap.org/learn-more/solution.
Figure 1. Monica Gautier, (2008).
Figure 2. Monica Gautier, (2008).
Figure 3. Lovisa Nersing, (2008).
Figure 4. Lovisa Nersing, (2008).
Figure 5. Monica Gautier, (2008).