Even Joanna Lumley can't help Brita's tap water problem

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Even Joanna Lumley can't help Brita's tap water problem

The Background

If ever there was a time for an alternative to bottled water, you’d think it would be now, wouldn’t you? You can’t move for plastic waste and waste campaigns. 

It’s everywhere – oceans, mountain ranges, highstreets and enormous tankers criss-crossing the high seas in search of a port to dump even more of the stuff. And now, we’re told, one of the last great wildernesses, the Artic, is infected. 

Why, then, is the bottled water market growing? 

Not only growing, it’s in rude health. 

According to Zenith Global’s 2019 Water Drinks Report, consumption of water drinks rose by 7% to reach 4,267m litres and “sales of plain bottled water in retail packs grew by 7.9% to 3.4bn litres”. If I had the inclination, I’d create an Economist-style infomercial, depicting bottles, laid end to end, stretching as far as the second ring of Saturn. But I don’t.

That’s a serious amount of water and plastic at a time when environmental consciousness is meant to be at an all-time high. 

On the one hand it’s great so many millennials, Gen Zers and Alphas are flying the planet’s flag – even Glastonbury threw its support behind the anti-plastic movement this year. But, on the other, every generation must be still be buying what is the world’s best-selling soft drink. Experts aren’t expecting it to stop any soon either – the prediction is 3-5% growth to 2023. 

Enter stage right, Brita, a brand born in the 1950s by Heinz Hankammer and named after his daughter. 

The idea was sound – optimise tap water for car batteries and then unlock the potential of home use. In 1970 he launched his first jug and the world went filter-tastic.

I think the heyday of the brand was in the 1990s. TV ads proclaimed, “Tap Water, Transformed”. I remember my parents buying into it religiously – but that’s when there was also a lingering doubt about the quality of tap water. It was a good play and worked well although, personally, I always thought, much like in-fridge ice makers, that, at some point, water became eau de fish-finger.

What They Did

To make a difference, Brita invested £1.5m in a multi-layered campaign which uses celebs and influencers across a blend of TV, social and PR.

In the first ad, Joanna Lumley let’s her inner Patsy shine as she rants about how utterly ridiculous it is to buy bottled water. The pay-off is with Brita you can enjoy perfectly good tasting water without any of the nasty environmental impact: “Just Tap. Filtered” goes the strap.

In another she’s tasting water like a sommelier. ”I’m getting notes of… well, nothing. Exactly as it should be”. A skit with Gethin shows viewers how they can win prizes galore by switching to Brita.

Maybe Joanna’s not the obvious choice for the Z-ers and Alphas out there, but the team at Brita has that covered through a clever #NoFilterNoFuture strand. Working with 21 Instagram influencers, it has photoshopped beach and ocean shots with a litter of plastic and garbage.

Whether it’s going far enough beyond awareness of plastic waste is debatable. But that brings us back to the lovely Ms Lumley.

One of the tenets of partnership marketing is that it can only truly work, if all parties are working to the same goal. 

For me, this is where this campaign gets clever. 

It’s not a celebrity campaign, nor one built soley on advocacy. Essentially, it’s a partnership of like-minded brands/people who have united behind a common threat.

In Joanna, Brita have a veteran campaigner who knows when to pull back and when to strike hard. It’s not surprising therefore, that she’s stepped into the political arena by asking Boris to tax single-use plastics. She’s also not afraid to make it a gender issue.

“You’ve got water in your home, it’s called tap, so it is largely up to the women and if in the fridge there is always a jug of delicious water or a bottle of water, cold and ready for you to take out, maybe women at home have to do that” she said recently. “Whether you’re a mother or a housewife or a single person or a person like me, just caring, just do it. It’s not so hard.”

The Review

There’s so much to commend in this campaign that it feels wrong to criticise it. But do I feel more or less likely to buy Brita? I’m indifferent to it. 

The campaign I agree with. You’d be mad not to. And it’s reminded me of a brand that I’d long forgotten. 

But, the focus on the villain, single-use plastic, has overshadowed room for the hero to shine. I must feel more emotion for Brita, more love, empathy and affinity; more “it’s us and Brita versus the world”. But I don’t.

It could have been a SodaStream moment for the brand. But it’s not as I don’t look at the ads and think our family needs Brita. We’re happy to fill our bottles up with tap water and even happier not to buy filters and consider their environmental impact. And I’ve lived in hard-water, Central London my whole life, so if my family isn’t the target, then who is?

The problem Brita faces is the same as it’s always faced. Whilst the villain now is bottled water, the real villain for the brand to grow is tap water itself. That in some way, by using Brita, tap water will be improved. 

And that’s a message which doesn’t wash in my humble opinion.

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Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen

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