Toronto: The fear of dying drives people to buy bottled water, despite knowing that it may not be good for them or the planet, scientists say.
The study suggests that most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products.
“Bottled water advertisements play on our greatest fears in two important ways,” said Stephanie Cote, who conducted the research as a graduate student at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
“Our mortality fears make us want to avoid risks and, for many people, bottled water seems safer somehow, purer or controlled,” said Cote.
“There is also a deeper subconscious force at work here, one that caters to our desire for immortality,” she said.
The study used social psychology’s Terror Management Theory (TMT) as its framework.
TMT researchers argue that people’s efforts to repress conscious and unconscious fear of death generates specific defences that influence behaviours such as consumption choices, the accumulation of wealth, and status security.
The research team analysed data drawn from the content of bottled water campaigns and advertisements, websites, photographs, and videos that revealed implicit and explicit meanings.
They also examined how anti-bottled water campaigns have trouble competing with corporate bottled water messaging.
“Our results demonstrate that corporate campaigns appeal to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status,” said Sarah Wolfe, a researcher in Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment.
“Pro-bottle water advertisements rely heavily on branding, celebrity, and feel-good emotions that trigger our group identities and patriotism,” said Wolfe.
“If public and non-governmental organisations were interested in promoting the benefits of municipal drinking water systems, they’re going to need to use new tactics that are emotionally stirring and speak to more than just the financial, ethical and environmental benefits of tap water,” she said.