Written by Veena Murali
Water is thought to be universal–everyone needs it, it looks the same, and it tastes the same… or does it? Brands like Fiji, Essentia, and SmartWater are able to successfully differentiate themselves while selling a product that is fundamentally undifferentiated. You’ve seen them: the aesthetically pleasing water bottles with seemingly positive health benefits that entice you to buy them instead of a simple, and cheaper, Poland Spring bottle. However, it’s unclear if these “special” water brands offer anything more than chic packaging and a smarter brand strategy.
One of the key drivers of the niche market for specialized water is branding. Being able to stand out on shelves is one of the most important features for these brands. The rise of SmartWater and Vitamin Water in the early 2000s initially came from their sleek branding – the use of all lowercase letters was much less popular than it is today, and it immediately caught consumers’ eyes. Today, companies have gone so far as to create boxed water and black-colored water in efforts to intrigue customers and motivate them to purchase a novel, hydrating product.
Specialized water brands also focus largely on aligning their marketing strategies to aspirational lifestyle images. The simple and sleek packaging of Fiji, Essentia, or Life Water are more commonly associated with people who exude a certain “aesthetic”–girl bosses, fitness freaks, confident-yet-classy hipsters–all these archetypes are figures we wish we could be. Unique water brands carry a certain appeal among young people who place a large emphasis on aesthetic and image. Whether it be for taking an artsy Snapchat story or just for carrying around, specialized water brands help us feel a little more put-together than we actually are.
Many of these well-known “special waters” are also alkaline waters. Alkaline water brands advertise the health benefits of drinking water with higher pH levels. The strategy gives them the opportunity to position themselves as ideal products for active and healthy lifestyles and reach larger markets. However, alkaline water also commands a much higher price than regular water. So are the health benefits that accompany alkaline water worth the extra few dollars? According to the Mayo Clinic, alkaline water does not have any real and proven health benefits. While claims exist that alkaline water can help to neutralize acid in the bloodstream and prevent disease, further research still proves necessary to validate these claims. As of now, regular water is better than alkaline water for most people, so you might as well save those extra few bucks and buy the Poland Spring bottle.
Although “special” water brands like Vitamin Water, SmartWater, and Essentia draw the attention of consumers looking to achieve a certain lifestyle and receive health benefits, it seems that most of their recognition comes from packaging and branding. While you may believe you’re paying $6 for a water bottle because of its advertised health benefits, chances are, you’re paying for the pretty packaging that caught your eye in the first place. Drinking water is extremely important for high energy and good health, but you don’t need to be drinking “special” water.