Don’t Drink the Water

For two crystal clear days in June I was sequestered in a conference room in a swanky Chicago hotel listening to presentations on mouth sores – an exquisitely painful side effect of cancer therapy.  The room darkened and the group was treated to lurid slide after slide of glistening red and oozing mouth sores.  Oblivious to the sight of people wincing in pain and general misery,  some of the oncologists were already multitasking, answering e-mails in the guise of taking notes on the computer, or discreetly answering a blackberry partially hidden underneath the desk. My job was to write up the proceedings of the meeting so I was supposed to pay attention and look sharp – even though I knew I would rely mostly on the transcripts that would eventually come my way.  So my multi-tasking had to be even more subtle.  I glanced out the window and realized that there was a little sliver of blue peaking out between the dense office buildings.  Restlessly, I reached for some ice water, and realized that here I was just three blocks from Lake Michigan, one of the jewels of the largest body of fresh water on this planet, and the Peninsula Hotel thought it fit to provide me with water from Fiji.  What ever happened to the pitcher of iced tap water?  

With nothing else to do, I pored over the labels of the bottle, both front and back, and began to envision the marketing strategy that had successfully convinced people that Fiji water was something special.  I imagined the chief marketing officer assembling his/her minions and saying – “okay this third of the room, you guys are the image makers.  You brainstorm on the front label depicting Fiji.  Now you guys over there, you are going to work on the label on the back of the plastic bottle.  Your job is to come up with as many “disturb points” as you can to convince the consumer that tap water is unhealthy and even dangerous.  Now finally, you guys in the way back of the room, I want you to devise the pricing strategy.  Let’s show hotels and restaurants how they can turn good ole H20 into a profit center.”

I must say the guys assigned to the front label did not get too creative, going with the standard image of a sun-kissed Pacific island with colorful hibiscus and bougainvillea flowers.  The bottle itself was tinted light blue, giving the water itself and azure blue hue that was designed to evoke the popular image of pure, simple and pristine island life. 

However, the guys assigned to the disturb points really went to town.  As I looked across the table, I realized that the Fiji water across from me had a different label, and there was yet another different label to the right and left.   Now this was worth investigating.  I managed to squirrel away another bottle from the buffet table, and another as I feigned a bad back to get up and walk around.  Now arrayed in front of me was a series of disturb points trying to convince me that drinking the local water was an act of supreme folly. 

Two labels played off of the same theme of the splendid purity of isolation, i.e. since Fiji was thousands of miles away from the nearest industrialized content, it had cleaner clouds, purer rains and ! tah dah! cleaner water.  This was an obvious dig at all of us who enjoy the fruits of an affluent economy, and are polluting the world and raising its temperature in the process.  The  United States is presumably Fiji water’s most significant client – who else would commit the environmental absurdity of hauling fresh water all the way across the ocean, and then pay about $5 per galloon for what could be had for free.  It is horrifying to realize that given the cost of manufacturing the bottle itself and transportation costs, it actually takes more water to make the bottle than it actually holds.  The label also proclaimed that “Fiji is one of the last virgin ecosystems on Earth,” which to me immediately cries out for a definition of a “virgin” ecosystem and who is the judge of lost virginity. 

Although the first couple of labels point to the clean air and rains, the next couple of labels took a different tact and suggested that the water does not come from yesterday’s cleansing rain but instead from an ancient artesian aquifer deep within the earth where it is protected from external elements.  “It’s the way nature intended water to be.  Untouched.”   Personally, I don’t think that nature has any specific agenda or intent; it/she just takes what is given, processes it and spits it out.  The artesian reference is intriguing.  As I recall many years ago there was an ad campaign about some sort of beer that was made from Artesian water.  These marketers seemed to throw up their hands in despair in trying to explain the beneficial hydraulics of an artesian system and instead tried to simplify matters by pretending that the Artesians were some sort of secretive elves.  The Fiji water people probably figured that since “artesian” sounded scientific, who needs to explain it? 

A few of the labels veered from disturb points and attempted to find positive attributes of Fiji water – presumably attributes that Fijians would like to enjoy, except that their precious resource is being siphoned off and sold to elitists half way around the world.  One label claimed that Fiji water had a “unique and refreshing taste,” which is a very confusing premise to me.  My opinion is that the major attributes of water are that is cold and has absolutely no taste.  If it had taste, it would be called something else, like lemonade. 

Apparently since Fiji water is loaded with silica, they used the time-tested strategy of turning a potential negative into a positive.  Thus one of the labels extolled the health virtues of silica, such as its ability strengthen bone, connective, tissue, teeth, skin, nails and hair.  And then finally the trump card, “Silica is what gives Fiji water its soft mouth feel.” Whoa, in addition to its taste, Fiji water has a feel, and it is soft.  When someone says water, I think wet, and when someone says “soft mouth feel” I don’t think of water – pudding perhaps, but not water.

I was so engrossed in my water project that I was startled when the lights went up, and the conference moderator turned to me and said, “Dr. Brown, would you like to make any comments on mouth sores and how you will be approaching the manuscript?”  Fortunately I have been doing this long enough that I always roll out the same boilerplate comments that 1. work will begin in earnest when I receive the manuscripts, 2. that I will send an outline to the taskforce chair, and 3. I appreciated the opportunity to learn about mouth sores (and Fiji water). 

The missing words in the following poem contain two sets of anagrams (i.e. words that share the same letters, like spot, stop and post).  One set is indicated with asterisks, the other with dashes.  the number of asterisk or dashes indicated the number of letters in the word.  One word in each set of anagrams will rhyme with the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve for the missing words.  Scroll down for answers. 

 The entrepreneur gathered his —– and key marketing staff,

 And had them stare at iced water in a large carafe.

 “How can we get people to pay for water and stop drinking from the ***?

 So let’s brainstorm now, everyone please put on their thinking cap.

 I know this sounds silly, but kindly set all your doubts —–

 Good marketers have gotten people to pay for what’s free when they really tried.

 For example, people may be more *** to buy water if they think its perfectly pure,

 Or comes from a country like Fiji with an exotic allure.”

 Other —– included its soft mouth feel, or a taste fresh and clean,

 Harvested from a snow capped mountain, virgin and pristine.

 Well these geniuses deserve a *** on the back; their wildest dreams were exceeded.

 They managed to create a market for something that is totally unneeded.







Answers:  aides, tap, aside, apt, ideas, taps

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