An interesting (if not the most critical) article from Forbes about active marketing to minority consumers.  Although, I generally agree with the article about the safety of our drinking water, I have to admit, the article also made me cringe a little since it also seemed to smack of the old refrain, “Here again, there is evidence that minorities aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions about what they drink.”  I would add that this article didn’t actively address the fact that at least in some cases, areas that are heavily populated by minorities also sometimes receive poorer quality drinking water…

For example, New York City’s drinking water comes from a network of 19 reservoirs and 3 lakes (see here). Given this extensive network, different areas and neighborhoods of NYC sometimes receive water from different sources (that was not the case in 2010). The state is required to monitor the water quality and notify residents of potential problems.  Since I moved to Harlem, we’ve been notified at least 3 times in about as many years that the lake supplying our area’s drinking water tested unusually high for the presence of two microscopic pathogens called Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Although the report notes that these little guys pose no real danger, it does raise some interesting questions about equal access and treatment to something so basic as drinking water.

A large pile of half-pint Poland Spring bottles
Image via Wikipedia

Research has shown that minorities consume bottled water more often than white Americans, and spend a greater proportion of their income (about 1%, compared to the 0.4% white Americans dole out) on this superfluous commodity every year. A recent study in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine confirmed this trend – finding that Latino and black parents were three times more likely to sate their children’s thirst with bottled water, compared with white parents. What sets this study apart from previous ones, is that it pinpoints the reasons why minority parents perceive bottled water to be superior, and thus a necessary expense. They genuinely believe it to be cleaner, safer, healthier, and more convenient than the stuff that pours out of the spigot (virtually) gratis. Health experts and tap water advocates heartily disagree and will produce reams of data revealing tap water to be pure, healthful, and entirely sanitary. In fact, authors of the recent study note that the reliance on bottled water may contribute to dental issues in minority children who don’t benefit from the fluoride purposefully added to tap water to maintain the nation’s oral health. What’s more, a National Resources Defense Council investigation discovered the 17% of bottled waters contained unsafe levels of bacterial loads, and 22% were contaminated with chemicals, including arsenic.
Still, with 10 billion gallons of bottled water imbibed annually in the US, bottled water brands have been actively courting the minority market. Here are four strategies they’ve used to convince black and Latino consumers to swig from their bottles.

Click here to read the rest of the article here and then come back and take the poll.

Nonetheless, I want to reiterate that I am a HUGE FAN of tap water. I drink it all the time– given the amount of money that the government puts into cleaning our water, I think it’s silly to insist on buying bottled water. Moreover, I am one of those environmentalist who are horrified by the amount of time it takes a plastic bottle to decompose in our landfills (not to mention the energy that goes into making each bottle). And lastly, perhaps most relevant to our class on Race & Ethnicity, I find the kind of marketing campaign described in this article to be rather despicable. See what you think after reading article and does it make you re-think buying bottled water?

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4 responses

  1. Cindy Lu says:

    I feel a little embarrassed after reading this article. My family actually buys huge packs of Poland Spring water every week after our supply runs out. My mom, however, was never a fan of bottled water because she believed that the company uses huge amounts of chemicals in order to create this “clean” water for us and therefore bottles them to be sold. She also didn’t like the idea of our family drinking tap water because she also thought there were huge amounts of waste left over. Maybe it was because of her mindset that anything that runs through pipes were, someway or another, dirty. She tends to boil our tap water first before drinking it to ‘purify’ it. After reading this, I may start to drink tap water and inform my family of this article to ask them for their opinions.

  2. hheydi says:

    Wow! This information is very helpful. I generally drink tap water, but some of my friends have water bottles in their fridges, and filling their child’s baby bottles with the same. Considering that some of my friends fall into the minority category, I will soon alert them regarding these findings…

  3. nahirortiz says:

    There’s no denying the power of advertising and how one can be swayed to think and act in the Capitalist’s favor; however, when it comes to bottled water I believe it is primarily a matter of convenience and novel lifestyle rather than blue skies, waterfalls, patriotic flags and native celebrities.
    I agree minorities are often targeted in marketing campaigns for everything under the sun, but it’s not because they are less likely to make a wise choice; on the contrary, it is the fact they must make wise choices (due to limited income) that they are targeted. Oh, and let’s not forget the minority are the majority which naturally equals more sales.
    I agree minorities are more likely to purchase bottled water because they simply don’t trust the cleanliness of tap water due to the area in which they generally live. Many residential areas located in poor neighborhoods and near bodies of water often experience discolored and bad tasting water in their faucets which discourages people from wanting to drink water, especially tap water.
    I believe the recent surge in health consciousness also plays a major role in people choosing between bottled water and soda or juice. It may seem as though the boom in water sales by minorities is due to the enchantment of a commercial or billboard but the real difference lies in a culture change that is evolving due to the politics geared towards the amelioration of unhealthy minorities of N.Y.
    Wealthy people have convenient access to clean water such as, state-of-the-art filtration systems which are already installed in their homes , faucets, refrigerators and have quality water options (i.e. Pellegrino) at work or wherever else they go; therefore, there is no need for them to walk around with water bottles like us poor folk!
    I’m just saying; if I wanted to sell quality caviar am I going to campaign the working class!

  4. wow, i never thought of water as a difference between class or race. but i must say, i agree with the previous comment that this article does fail to mention the lack of access of a lot of minorities to clean tap water. as well as good filtration systems.
    Even if the quality of tap water is better in the better neighborhoods around New York, people who can afford living in these neighborhoods, on top of having better pipes, can also generally afford to have a better filtration system built in.
    good filtration systems can be expensive and you would have to buy a replacement filter, or clean the filter every once in a while, while it simpler to just buy a gallon of water for a dollar in the corner store and know that your water is clean, so i think class has a lot to do with this topic too, as far as having access to cleaner tap water and cleaner pipes and being able to trust your tap water.