FREE for SALE: The Bottled Water Story

At one of our training programs I was asked “How can I sell my services, when people can just get them for free online?” This is a current problem with today’s changing technologies and access to information. But is it really? Can you sell something that people can get for free elsewhere?

This is the story of the “Bottled Water” which took place in the 1970s and its effects are still rippling through today, influencing daily decision making and purchasing behaviours around the globe:

The 1970s were the heights for soft drink companies who had reached a peak at that time in terms of profits and sales. However their curve seem to stay at that point, and not increase further. They have come to realise, that there was only so much soft drinks people could drink, and that their greatest competitor wasn’t another brand, but water! Even Pepsi Co. Chairman at the time acknowledged that “The number one enemy, is tap water”. But how do you get rid of your competition? A commodity that is provided FREE of charge?

What they did was the “Scare & Seduce” tactic. They first published ads on TV that the tap water was “unsafe”, “contaminated”, “dangerous”. They backed it up with an investigation that took place in FIJI islands, however on the ads they just didn’t mention “FIJI” islands. That way they generalised it, and since now it was backed up with data and research, there was no dispute. Tap water is dangerous!

They then offer the best appropriate solution. Bottled water ! This was supposed to be a “tested”, “safe”, “natural” solution to the hazards of the tap water. And it worked ! Using beautiful labels at the covers of the bottles, with spring-falls, mountains and lakes, these was an easy bait for consumers to take.

Of course as times change, only in recent years we have seen people turning back to tap water, and governments pushing for better water processing facilities for free water access. It took more than 30 years, for this scam to be unveiled and people to become more environmentally aware on multiple issues to try to break free from the lie they have been fed all these years. The reality is that 64% of bottled water comes from tap water, and is being sold at 2000 times more the price of the equivalent tap water amount. Companies such as PepsiCo who is the owner of Aquafina bottled water, will soon change its label to demonstrate that most of their bottled water is actually tap water, with much more companies to follow.

To answer the question at the top, YES! Yes you can sell something that can be available for free online, and that was one of the biggest examples on how it could be done. Of course, do not go down the line of scaring and seducing customers, but there is always a way through a correct strategy and message to do it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Sources and references can be available on request. Don’t forget to leave your comment below.


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