November 29th, 2007
I’ve long followed the interesting and well-chronicled careers of Mark DiMassimo of DiMassimo Goldstein (DIGO) and Eric Yaverbaum, who runs Ericho Communications and has written a number of bestselling books. Together or apart, they’ve been the marketing minds behind a who’s who of successful brands including Ikea, Dominos Pizza, Progressive Insurance, Glaceau Vitamin Water, Crunch Fitness and Jet Blue.
Now Eric and Mark have taken on a much different assignment: that of helping the planet. Their focus is not greenhouse gases but bottled water, and they’re doing so through the launch of a joint venture called Tappening and a huge educational media blitz. Tappening asks everyone to send in one empty commercial water bottle with a note inside that commits the sender to drinking only tap water in the future. The initiative also calls companies like Coca-Cola on the carpet for creating massive waste: did you know that California alone throws out three million empty water bottles every day? You can also get a uber-hip Tappening bottle to carry your tap water around in. Or, rather, you could before the bottles sold out in the first 36 hours of the campaign. [See below for a nice shot of the bottles and a handy link to a FoxNews interview about Tappening.]
I spoke to both Mark and Eric today to get a rare look behind a grass-roots campaign that’s getting major attention – one based on the power of what they call two “mad dads.”
Stephanie: Hey, guys. From what I’ve read so far, this idea seems to have sprouted from the minds of two angry marketing geniuses who’d just seen a documentary about trash. True?
Mark: Well I can’t address the “genius” part, but we’re definitely angry. I have three kids and they deserve a healthy planet. That means we’re going to have to do a little more than change light bulbs.
Eric: As parents, Mark and I are very much aligned emotionally in this. And we believe that we can impact a lot of people.
Stephanie: And just to get it out of the way early… you’re also making some money, right?
Mark: When you sell your entire inventory of bottles in the first 36 hours, you definitely make a few bucks, although we’ve been shocked at the response. We thought we’d sell out our inventory in a year and just self-fund the initiative. But apparently we’re onto something!
Eric: Yes, selling out after 36 hours and logging 450,000 page visits in two weeks tells us that, based on what we do for a living, we have the wherewithall to educate people – and we’re succeeding.
Stephanie: I personally have no issues with two marketing execs making a few dollars by spending every spare waking hour doing something good for the planet. But why promote tap water?
Mark: Because it was there, because it’s everywhere – and because it wasn’t branded. And all three of us understand the power of brands. Look at vodka, a drink with no taste. But branding has given plenty of vodka brands taste. And a brand makes people pay good money for good old H2O in a bottle every day. And what’s even in that bottle? Pepsi admits that Aquafina, the #1 bestselling brand of bottled water in the US, comes from tap water! Tap water deserves to fight, if you will, on equal footing. Reusable water bottles and the Tappening brand is where we wanted to start.
Eric: People don’t realize so many really sad and fundamental facts regarding what we do to the planet. The bottled water industry adds to global pollution, wastes energy, creates waste and contributions to the causes of climate change. The industry’s solution so far has been to talk about thinner plastic and recycling. Thinner plastic still needs to be made, cleaned, filled, shipped, collected and discarded. And nearly 25% of Americans do not recycle. Tap water is right in front of us: we believe that something so simple can be very powerful.
Mark: And by the way, the stuff in the bottle isn’t as well regulated as the stuff that comes out of your tap. Compare what the EPA requires of your tap water to what the FDA looks at in your bottled water. See who makes you feel better about what you’re drinking. But the bottom line is that, on the whole, the water from your tap is healthy for you, healthy for your family and a whole lot healthier for the planet. Take the money you save and put it to good use, if you can.
Eric: That’s also what we’re also trying to do by using a portion of the proceeds from every Tappening bottle sale to promote the documentary you mentioned called Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home. Now they are starting to get traffic from our site… and that’s the way you start to bind thousands of people together behind a cause.
Stephanie: Interesting. Do you see marketing discipline as the solution to other social problems?
Mark: Yes, marketing and value innovation. It would be of enormous value to get people drinking more tap and less bottled. So we look at that problem and we innovate. Why don’t people drink more tap? And we don’t disregard or belittle the answers we don’t like: if drinking tap isn’t hip, for example, then we need to address that. Scientists may study it. Politicians may demagogue it, legislate it… But we know that what really moves the needle quickly is marketing innovation, which is about design, branding and excitement.
Eric: People buy brands to express themselves and their values. Tappening allows people to be part of this campaign, which we hope is both a stylish and socially valuable thing to do. Maybe that’s why so many people like our bottle. It brands them when they carry it.
Stephanie: So you want to make an ordinary-seeming topic cool.
Eric: Definitely. Hey, I have a teenage daughter to impress! That’s not easy!
Mark: Absolutely. Absolutely. Tappening IS cool.
Stephanie: How important has digital marketing been to your success?
Mark: Incredibly. We were blown away by the celebrities who found our MySpace page and spread the word.
Eric: And all the environmental organizations online…. The bloggers also have gotten the word out, and they’ve been collaborators in developing our concept. A lot of hard questions in this space need to be answered. And bloggers ask them. They don’t cow-tow to anyone. To them, I would offer the biggest thank you.
Mark: Traditional media has driven our success as well. We and others are spreading video from TV interviews we have done all over the web. We’re getting newspaper and radio coverage. It all ends up in digital form and then it travels everywhere.
Eric: The doom and gloom predictions about the future of mainstream media fascinate me, because “old” and “new” media work so well together: traditional media produces high-quality content and then the web spreads it around the world. Given that both Mark and I are usually the “senders” of such messaging for our clients, it’s been a blast to be on the *positive* receiving end of it!
Stephanie: Well many thanks to you both. And if you have any Tappening bottles squirreled away… I want one!
Readers: consider what Mark and Eric are saying about the phenomenon of branding, the social quality and power of “cool,” and the idea that this concept could be applied to just about anything. What can we apply it to next?
tappeningbottled waterMark DimassimoEric Yaverbaum
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