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.
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.
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?