Bottled water awash in a sea of controversy

Bottled water is in hot water, and marketers of alternatives are trying to seize the opportunity.

Some of the same health-conscious consumers who helped make bottled water a $15 billion business now are among those worried about its environmental impact — its 38 million plastic bottles a year made with 1.5 million barrels of oil.

Questions also have been raised about the need for a relatively costly convenience product that in many cases is purified municipal tap water. Top-selling Aquafina recently was the latest brand to put that origin on its label, after prodding by consumer group Corporate Accountability. The PepsiCo PEP brand saw a sales dip from the negative publicity and has replaced scheduled ads for the next few weeks with one about its seven-step purification process.

"It's a tough time to be in bottled water," says Joseph Doss, CEO of the International Bottled Water Association. "We're facing a great deal of controversy."

Even some city governments are joining: Last month, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city buying of bottled water for its facilities. Last week, a Chicago councilman proposed a 10- to 25-cent tax on bottled water to help pay for a $40 million water and sewer fund deficit — partly due to less tap water consumption.

Bottled water rivals are pumping up tap-based alternatives:

•Water filters. Brita, which makes pitchers with built-in filters, last week launched It promotes using a Brita pitcher at home and offers a $10 refillable bottle by Nalgene for water on the go (with a portion of the proceeds going to global safe water group Blue Planet Run Foundation).

Visitors also are asked to register and make an online pledge to reduce their "impact on the planet" by giving up bottled water for a week, a month or a year. "This is something that's very top of mind with consumers, and we figured it was the right time to do it," says Hank Mercier, Brita's associate marketing manager.

Procter & Gamble PG is promoting its Pur faucet-mounted water filters with samples and fact sheets that spell out benefits for those who pull the plug on bottled water. Pur marketing executive Tom O'Brien says one filter can fill the equivalent of 3,200, 16-ounce water bottles and save users $600 to $1,000 a year. "We're saying it's healthier for your family, healthier for your family's wallet and healthier for the environment."

•Stylish refillables. New designs out last week from SIGG, a Swiss maker of 140 designs of aluminum drinking bottles, carry slogans such as: "Make love not landfill" and "Friends don't let friends drink from plastic." Its $15-to-$20 bottles sell at retailers such as Whole Foods WFMI and L.L. Bean.

They "are an accessory like your cellphone or your iPod," U.S. President Steve Wasik says.

Bottled-water marketers are pushing back by promoting its convenience and health merits.

They also are trying to address environmental criticism. The IBWA ran newspaper ads recently that included promotion of industry efforts to reduce packaging. Brands such as Aquafina, Coca-Cola's KO Dasani's and Nestlé's Poland Spring, Ozarka and Arrowhead have cut plastic use by 30% with thinner bottles. Ozarka ads promote the "eco" bottles with a tree hugging a man, a play on "tree hugger."

"We are doing what we can to make sure our environmental critics understand our positive environmental track record," says Jane Lazgin, Nestlé spokeswoman.


Rent a pet.

Want a canine companion but don't have the time, desire or level of commitment to actually own a dog? Sign up for an "occasional pet."

New company Flexpetz offers a dog-sharing service that works similarly to the way firms sell vacation home shares. Members pick the type of pup they want — such as a Labrador or Afghan — and select a loan time that ranges from one to seven days. When they are not out with their new best friends, each of the pups is watched over by a primary caregiver, says founder Marlena Cervantes.

The service is available in Los Angeles and San Diego and goes to New York, San Francisco and London this year.

Being commitment-phobic does come at a price, however (bad boyfriends take note). In the case of Flexpetz, it's a hefty membership fee and other expenses, which can total about $850 a year.

Are you ready for some baseball?

Somewhere in America, two taco-loving baseball fans are destined to soon get their fill of both.

A Taco Bell YUM sweepstakes dubbed The World Series Experience of a Lifetime will award a grand-prize winner and guest tickets to every World Series game. Also included in the prize package: on-field access during batting practice, the chance to toss a ceremonial first pitch and $50,000 (which can cover a whole lot of taco bingeing).

How to try out: Customers buying a large or extra-large drink get a code to enter at

The gold standard in facial firming.

Just when you thought a facial couldn't be any more of a luxury, beauty marketers have come up with a gold-leaf process.

Japanese company Umo recently brought gold-based facials to the USA with spa treatments in Southern California, Atlanta, Dallas and New York, starting at $300.

At Roop Ayurvedic Center & Day Spa in Hoboken, N.J., the bling is a better bargain: $175 for a 60-minute, 24-carat-gold facial. Roop co-owner Jaanvi Shah is not surprised that it sells. "If people are willing to do surgery, they are willing to pay to do it the natural way," he says.

The facials are touted as being based on the ancient Indian healing art of Ayurveda and are said to firm the skin, give it a glow and reduce wrinkles. The only hitch: the potential for stress-induced wrinkles after facial customers get their credit card bills.

Beer-and-babe marketing gets Second Life.

Anheuser-Busch's BUD Budweiser Select is the latest brand to set up shop in the Internet-based virtual universe Second Life.

The brewer invited Second Life women to become a Lingerie Legend by pitting their animated Web persona — their avatar — against other virtual vixens in an online beauty pageant. The winning avatar gets a two-page spread in the September issue of Second Style, an online fashion magazine for Second Life users.

Not to leave out women who'd rather flaunt their sex appeal the old-fashioned way, Select also is hosting "real-life" competition in bars, with the winning model starring in a fashion spread in men's magazine Stuff.

By Laura Petrecca, Theresa Howard and Bruce Horovitz


Q: Who sings Mr. Blue Sky in the Sears commercial that features a variety of products, including home appliances, scrolling across the screen?

A:Electric Light Orchestra provides the upbeat Mr. Blue Sky for the retail giant's campaign that kicked off in May with an ad for Mother's Day gift ideas. The song, from the 1977 album Out of the Blue, has been used throughout the summer in other sales promotions for Sears. Ad agency Y&R, Chicago, picked the song to be one of several happy tunes for a new Sears campaign dubbed, "Sears, Where it Begins." Other tunes include Brendan Benson's What I'm Looking For and The 88's Coming Home.

"We have chosen upbeat pieces that help create a sense of energy and fun in the spots," says Becky Case, Sears' vice president of advertising.

If you think you've heard ELO's Mr. Blue Sky in an ad before, you're right. Volkswagen used it in 2003 to promote the New Beetle convertible. In the ad, a young man's daily grind drags on — until he spots a New Beetle ragtop.

The Sears license from Sony BMG to use the song expired this month, so you will no longer hear the song in ads — at least until another marketer wants to brighten up a commercial.