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Peggy Lee Cause Marketing

The water business used to be a pretty sweet deal. You package water, which might have come from a municipal source, for a fraction of a penny per gallon and you sell it in individual plastic bottles for dollars per quart. Best of all, people need to drink gallons of water a week just to survive. All you needed was a cool bottle and a fancy brand and the distribution to match and you were in business.

And then the world began to wake up to the silliness and waste of bottled water. There’s no need to recount the ridiculousness of it all or even cite sources. We all know about that ginormous plastic island floating in the Pacific Ocean. We all know about the crazy amounts of landfill space going just to water bottles that won’t ever degrade. We all sense the folly of water being shipped from Fuji (or even New York) to your store in Texas or California or Minnesota.

It would be easy to defend if water was bad in all those places. Only it’s not. In most of North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan water from the tap is reliably wholesome, if not always tasty.

What used to be a great business model has turned into something more difficult. Now the water business requires genuine innovation. Increasingly the water bottlers are turning to cause marketing to help them differentiate and remain commercially viable.

One of the big dogs among water bottlers is Nestle Waters North America, a division of the Swiss food giant, which sells Poland Spring, Perrier, Pellegrino, Callistoga and Arrowhead, among a few others.

On the Arrowhead website the tab about corporate responsibility, called ‘Doing Our Part’ runs to 1600 words!

For Arrowhead part of that is figuring out ways to make plastic bottles ever thinner and encouraging recycling. A big piece of Doing Our Part is a cause campaign with the National Parks Conservation Association, the august nonprofit that has been helping preserve and protect America’s National Parks for more than 90 years.

Last May Arrowhead and its Nestle Waters sister organizations announced it would make a $600,000 donation to the NPCA with a special emphasis on “trail maintenance and building, removal of non-native, invasive plants and planting of native species, wetland restoration, and general park maintenance” in select parks. Arrowhead’s also did an ancillary Facebook promotion worth $40,000 to select National Parks in the west. (Go to Arrowhead's Facebook site today and you'll see a different cause promotion benefiting the American Heart Association.)

Last fall members from the company participated in a trail remediation effort in Yosemite National Park.

I live within a day’s drive of at least a dozen national parks, including the bid daddies like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. My family and I spend time in the parks basically every summer. Thank goodness for them and the efforts of the NPCA and the National Park system in general.

So while I value this campaign and its results, it kinda leaves me with what I call “the Peggy Lee Question.” The Peggy Lee Question existentially asks, “Is That All There Is?

Honestly, Arrowhead and Nestle Waters North America need to do more than just make a fat donation to conservation organizations like the NPCA. Nestle needs a recycling effort with a sweet carrot in it for consumers. Arrowhead's cause marketing needs to give people real incentives to recycle.

Otherwise, their business is going to evaporate like water on a sidewalk in Phoenix in August.

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