Friday, June 28, 2013

Never Enough

In January 2012, I wrote that Americans 30 to 50 years ago lived comfortably on the equivalent of $50,000 (adjusted for inflation), today’s average income.  They did this by wanting less, buying less and being more satisfied with what they had.  Today’s culture is different.  We work more hours to make more money to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like.

Blame it on advertising and the media for persuading us that our wants have turned into needs.  The number of cars and house size of the average family have increased.  We take more vacations and spend money on items that didn’t even exist 30 years ago, but now have become “must haves.”  At the same time we continue to hear how bad the economy is, how everyone is just scratching to get by, with only 24% of the population not living paycheck to paycheck, while 27% have no savings at all.  

That’s why it’s shocking to read stories like this one.  Under the circumstances described above, the initial sentence seems unbelievable:  “DRINKING tap water is essentially free, but even during the economic downturn, consumers have sprung for bottled water, with sales in the United States increasing 6.7 percent in 2012, to $11.8 billion.”  That’s not enough.  It goes on to tell how Nestles is introducing a new premium bottled water called Resource, “aimed primarily at ‘a woman who is a little more on the trendy side and higher-income side’.” 

The latter part of the article that describes the advertising reads almost like a parody.  They are trying to avoid FDA interference by not directly claiming health benefits, which they must prove; but promoting the electrolyte content.  “With the exception of distilled water, all water contains some naturally occurring electrolytes,” but they state it in a way that “allows them to leave it up to the consumer to imagine the benefits that might come from electrolytes.” [emphasis added.]

Step back a minute and be amazed!  Consider that not too many years ago our main concern was whether the (free) water would bubble up high enough when we pushed the button.  Today we must carry around our own bottle (and many public places have removed drinking fountains so as not to compete with their vendors).  Marketers want us to believe that this is not yet good enough, that we must now impress others by the brand of bottled water we carry.  We are talking about water!  It falls from the sky!  What comes from the tap or a public drinking fountain is inspected and guaranteed to be safe.  Water sold in bottles is not, but the label shows how "trendy" we are.

What's next?  Will they next try to sell us bottled air that claims to be better and purer?  With critical thinking and perspective in such a sorry state, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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