Would you spend $55 for a bottle of glorified tap water? Me neither. Apparently, though, some people would. Priced at $55 per reusable (we’d hope so) frosted-glass Swarovski Crystal-encrusted bottle, Bling H2O is the latest in “designer water” (I know, I know, I thought it was a joke, too) – a small segment of the bottled water industry that saw enormous growth a year or two ago when credit was plentiful. I remembered hearing about it in 2006, back when it was mostly relegated to the celebrity set. Paris Hilton’s dog, for example, was said to sip exclusively on Bling H2O water (probably while munching on dry, grain-filled kibble, no doubt).
You already know my feelings on the bottled water industry: unless you don’t have access to potable tap water, bottled water is a joke. If you don’t trust your tap, get a simple reverse osmosis filtering system. If I had that kind of animus against $2-a-bottle Crystal Geyser or Dasani, imagine how I felt about Bling H2O.
While the global recession was in full swing and job losses were mounting and business everywhere was suffering, I often took solace in the thought that Bling H2O must have been among the inevitable casualties. That might sound anti-free-market of me, but I assure you it isn’t the case. On the contrary – part of what makes a healthy free market work is consumer repudiation of low-quality products. Money talks, and spending money on products that don’t work just ensures that the poor quality will continue. With the economy in tatters, I figured people would begin to exercise good judgment and stop supporting ridiculous products like blinged out bottled water.
Of course, I was wrong.
Just last week, while in the airport concession shop, I saw a rather prominent display of Bling H2O bottles. These things are still around… I even saw a guy buying one (to his credit, it was the newfangled plastic bottle version priced at a very reasonable $20)!
Never before had I been face-to-face with such a blatant representative of consumerist excess. I’ll admit, those Swarovski Crystals were pretty glamorous. I could almost witness their brilliance refracting incoming ultraviolet light to purify the water molecules contained within (ok, they don’t claim that it actually does this, but it’s just as ridiculous as their actual marketing blurb). I finally did manage to tear myself away from the display and exit the store, but my parched mouth drew me back. The credit card was already in hand and the crystals were drawing me in like some modern Will-‘o-the-Wisp when I noticed something off the side, just before the entrance to the store.
A small kid, no more than about seven years old, was slurping happily from the airport drinking fountain. It was like watching an exhausted antelope, having just escaped an entire pride of lions in a daring race across the savannah, filling up at the watering hole. He had to strain on tippy toes to reach it, but man, this kid was really reveling in the cool free tap water! This was a kid who was mostly untouched by advertising, other than whatever they show on Nickelodeon, satisfying a natural urge (thirst) with the most natural solution: free, delicious water. Grok in the flesh! He was on to something. I too drank from the fountain that day.
I kid, of course, but let’s hope more people do the same and opt for the tap water. And if they do decide to pony up the money for bottled, or even blinged out water, I hope they aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’re buying qualitatively superior H2O.