Should You Design a Water Bottle to Look Like a 40 Oz. Malt Liquor? (Probably Not)
Most people aren't drinking enough water. A 2018 study found that 77 percent of Americans don't think they consumed enough water every day to meet their health needs. So, what can you do to appeal to these people to stay hydrated? Providing refillable water bottles and installing refill stations around major cities and parks is a good start. But, just making water more available and, if possible, appealing is another good idea.
That's something "Sons of Anarchy" actor Theo Rossi and his wife Meghan McDermott tried to do with their "Ounce" water bottles. It's hard to make water "cool," though, and Rossi and McDermott's method—making the bottles look like 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor—upset some Brooklyn residents who saw the move as patronizing and offensive.
"Ounce Water sets a daily goal to consume 80 ounces of water, so we provide 20 oz. and 40 oz. bottles to make that math simple," McDermott told Yahoo. "The design of our bottle is an old-school nod, and is meant to take something that once was part of poisoning people (malt liquor) and instead fill your bottle with health and life. We are taking a negative and turning it into a positive, and we don't market the shape of our bottle, [we] strictly market the math and hydration benefits."
The placement of the bottles is the problem. Critics claim that the choice to market water in the form of "forties" in neighborhoods that traditionally had issues with alcohol consumption and poverty is insensitive. Breukelen RISE, a local community activism group, said it related too strongly to the "traumatic history of malt liquor in the black community."
"The history is of high alcohol content, cheap liquors that were sold and heavily promoted through rap music and all kinds of marketing and entertainment," community member Christine Gilliam told Yahoo. "It is a big part of the demise of a community that already feels it's under attack. So that, in turn, leads to alcoholism."
Gilliam added that she and other community members are concerned that children will take after people they see on TV and on the street drinking forties of malt liquor, first with water but then with alcohol.
"… Their behavior is emulating that of these people that are consuming alcohol," she said. "And it's like a precursor."
She and other community members asked that the local grocery store remove the 40 oz. bottles from their shelves. The 20 oz. bottles, which don't resemble common alcoholic drinks, are still available.
Going forward, Gillian and Breukelen RISE want to work with Ounce to discuss the problems with the packaging and its message in the community, and create a new design that has the desired impact without the potential problems.
"We get the water, we get the count of the ounces, but we don't like the packaging—it's offensive," Gilliam said. "I don't think [Rossi] thought this through, that it would be offensive to people, that it would be traumatizing to people. I don't think he thought that through."
McDermott told Yahoo that the company is working with the community group to discuss hydration initiatives in the community without stirring any controversy.
It's hard to imagine an initiative designed to promote hydration would be so polarizing, but it makes sense. There are plenty of ways to realize you're drinking 80 oz. of water without having to parody something that has ruined people's lives.
When you're designing packaging or creating a promotional campaign that parodies something else, it's probably a good idea to look at it from every possible point of view.