Monday, 27 April 2015

Marketing at its brightest – a food and drink special


A few weeks ago, my grocery delivery included in it a bottle of still water: a sample of a new(ish) product to try to induce me to buy more.

In this case, it was 850ml of ‘Glacéau Smart Water’, which proclaims itself to be: “vapour distilled water with added electrolytes”. “Vapour distilled” should be hyphenated, as it’s a compound adjective, but I’ll stop the grammar pedantry there (possibly).

It claims that it’s “smart because it’s made that way”. And just how is it “made?” you might ask. I mean, it’s Adam’s ale, for goodness sake.

Well, there’s no need to fret for long, as the bottle has a lengthy explanation.

“inspired by clouds

“clean, crisp taste [the absence of capital letters is their idea, not mine]

“sometimes the answer is right under your nose, and other times it’s floating above your head... in our case, it was the humble cloud that got us thinking.

“inspired by the water cycle, we vapour distil our spring water and then add electrolytes to deliver a distinctive, clean, crisp taste.

“smart because it’s made that way.”

The ingredients list – yes, this is a bottle of water, but there are ingredients – reads as follows: “spring water, electrolytes, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium bicarbonate.”

It’s “Made in GB” and “bottled in Northumberland” – in spite of that “Glacéau” bit trying to give it a spot of Frenchified sophistication.

And reading down through the small print, “Glacéau smartwater is a trademark of Energy Brands Inc”. If you want to get in touch with them, you can write to “Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, Uxbridge UB8 1EZ”.

So, how does it taste? Okay: it’s no better or worse than any other bottled water. And no better than the water that is ‘made’ by the filter jug I keep in the fridge.

At 80p for 850ml from the supermarket in question (or 56.8p if you buy a crate of 12 600ml bottles), that doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that Volvic still mineral water is 60p for 1.5 litres, Evian can be had for 84p for 2 litres and Highland Spring for 33.3p a litre; Buxton Spring Water is available at 60p for a 1.5 litre bottle, Brecon Carreg at 30.6p per litre and the company’s basic brand for as little as 18.8p a litre.

‘Smart water my arse,’ as Jim Royle might put it: ‘smart’ only for global sugar merchants Coca-Cola, who will be laughing all the way to the bank when the gullible buy this new piece of hip marketing – because that’s what they’re buying.

This is water for people who are ‘smart’ enough to recognise the word ‘electrolytes’ from drinks marketed for those doing sport, and who will assume that they’re essential for health and, well, they probably need to ingest some more. They might be put off by buying something from Coca-Cola, which perhaps explains why that global icon doesnt make more of its name on the bottle.

It’s the same way that much else is marketed these days – not least if it’s to do with health. Some of the claims made for ‘detox’ products are, frankly, every bit as laughable as the description of this ‘smart’ water, but it doesn’t make supposedly-intelligent individuals hand over their hard earned in search of some sort of health nirvana.

There are plenty of products out there that are marketed at people who are trying to be healthy, which prey on that desire and an element of ignorance about health, together with the results of our general lack of a food culture.

Watching TV over the weekend, I was reminded of an advert that had previously earned my attention.

It’s for Bertolli spread.

“Farmers tried many ways to combine olive oil with rich, creamy butter, until they discovered new Bertolli with butter: a delicious blend with butter and olive oil, so tasty they fell in love with it,” claims an Italian-accented voice, over pictures of a happy, rustic Italian couple enjoying bread heaped with the spread in question, after he patently fails to get his cow to understand what an olive is.

“New Bertolli with butter: a delicious blend with butter and olive oil.”

I have previously asked Bertolli brand owner Unilever, via Twitter, for evidence of the claim that at least two farmers (since the plural is used) had tried to blend olive oil and butter before Unilever managed it, but I have never had any response.

But then, why would anyone try that?

The ordinary olive oil I buy (the one I use for cooking) is Spanish, with the following ingredient list: “refined olive oil, virgin olive oil”.

My butter has one ingredient: “butter”.

Ordinary Bertolli spread has the following ingredients: “Vegetable Oils in varying proportions (38%) (Rapeseed, Palm, Sunflower), Water, Olive Oil (21%), Sweet Whey Powder (Milk), Buttermilk, Salt (1.1%), Emulsifier (Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Thickener (Sodium Alginate), Citric Acid, Natural Flavouring, Vitamins A and D, Colour (Carotenes)”.

Bertolli Light is made up thus: “Water, Vegetable Oils in varying proportions (22%) (Rapeseed, Palm, Sunflower), Olive Oil (16%), Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Buttermilk, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids, Sunflower Lecithin), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Citric Acid, Natural Flavouring, Vitamins A and D, Colour (Carotenes)”.

Is it any wonder those stupid Italian farmers couldn’t come up with the way to combine butter and olive oil? They forgot to think of the modified corn starch or the sodium alginate. Doh!

But hands up – why would anyone want to spread that on their toast and why would anyone think it healthier than olive oil or butter?


But while that’s one thing – and it’s the way in which big food gets away with marketing yogurt stuffed with sugar, by labeling it ‘low fat’, which is viewed as a synonym for ‘healthy’ – it’s another to wonder how companies are allowed to come up with such fantastical claims as this about farmers trying to blend olive oil and butter.

The marketing for that ‘smart’ water is actually quite clever: it makes no claims about any particular health benefits, including for consumption of its added electrolytes; it doesn’t say that it’s the best taste around or anything similar.

It relies entirely on a certain gullibility.

But then, Coca-Cola has been bitten before, when it emerged after the 2004 launch of its “pure” Dasani bottled water, that what punters were getting for their money was simply tap water that had been filtered three times, using “reverse osmosis”, and with ozone injected to keep it sterile.

Bertolli, on the other hand, is marketed partly via a fantastical claim for which no evidence is given, and on the back of an increasingly discredited belief that the saturated fat of butter is inherently unhealthy.

Its claims of contributing to “a healthy lifestyle” and its entire linking to a simpler, Mediterranean lifestyle, are what give it its power.

So there you have it: two sorts of marketing: two sorts of twaddle.

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