A small exploration on water bottles and bottled water

The relationship between people and water, a basic need for survival, is a topic that’s so silly yet interesting. To me, it’s the most straightforward representation of how trends work: We have an element that’s been around since the beginning of the planet, its structure unchanged, yet somehow there’s a ‘new’ way to drink it every other month.

Take for example, what you’ve maybe seen lately if you’re a follower of internet trends: Stainless steel drinking cups from Stanley. With its revenue climbing from $73 million in 2019 to $750 million in 2023, just as I’m writing this blog post, it’s hitting the headlines – not for the first time – as a woman in California was arrested and accused of stealing $2,500 worth of Stanley cups.

This pattern of ‘it’ bottles is not a new thing, too – before Stanley drinking cups, we as the North American society cycled through our fair share of ‘it’ bottles, some examples (that trigger a memory in me, at least) being Hydro flasks, S’wells, and Yeti mugs.

What really solidifies my thinking of water as a point of reference for consumerist culture, however, is that before the market began to full send on water bottles, we were all about bottled water as a status symbol – At least, that’s what it seemed like when I scoured for information from the pre-2010s era.

Take this 1977 TIME magazine article for example, which seemed to be convinced that Perrier water was a luxury commodity for “freaks” and “snobs” (can you even get away with this kind of wording in 2024?):

“Even without promotional fanfare, about 2 million bottles of Perrier are sold in the U.S. each year, mostly to discriminating, well-heeled “Perrier freaks,” who are willing to hunt down the drink in expensive gourmet shops and pay a dollar or more for a 23-oz. bottle.”

“In its assault on the U.S., Perrier faces an exquisitely tricky marketing problem. It must shed some of its aristocratic image to gain acceptance in the plebeian American supermarket—but not so much that it loses its sales-winning snob appeal.”

Or this excerpt from a 2005 Washington Post article sums up nicely how Evian sold its luxury status to consumers, similar to how social media influencers are used today:

“The opening shot superimposed an Evian bottle against the French Alps, as the exhilarated narrator described the water’s 15-year journey from mountain aquifer to nearby springs. And guess what?
“Cameron Diaz loves it!” the narrator boomed, in a saucy British accent. “But not to drink. She washes her face with it!””

Back then, the popularity of bottled water was hinged on selling themselves as an attainable luxury, getting people to buy into the idea of bottled water as a symbol of a lifestyle with cleaner, healthier water.

However, for as many articles I could find discussing the aspirational value of bottled water, I could find plenty of articles that evidenced people becoming immune to said value in the late 2000s. The attention of consumers shifted towards sustainability, as more news outlets began to discuss the ridiculousness of buying water that comes in single-use plastics. Plastic bottles began to symbolize something other than a clean and healthy lifestyle:

“the times they are a-changing. Thanks to the faddish explosion of the green movement, bottled water has become the latest—and purest—symbol of crass conspicuous consumption. To many, Evian no longer denotes fresh-faced purity, but an oily blot on the green earth.”

Our unhealthy attachment to spring water. (slate.com)

All this talk about what water bottles and bottled water stood for/stands for, but does this change our personal dynamic with water consumption? To be honest, I don’t think it changes mine, but I can reflect on what my water bottle says about me:

I relish in the privilege that our tap water is clean, so I am a water bottle girlie. Personally, I have a strong preference for how I want to drink my water – steaming hot (optimal if it burns my tongue a little), from a stainless steel bottle (it just doesn’t taste the same in a mug) – but when it comes to what I’m drinking it in? I’m kind of a boring water bottle girlie. It’s a simple, sleek Contigo mug that doesn’t take too much space in my backpack. My commutes for school sometimes can take up up to two hours depending on when the bus arrives, so it’s the perfect weight so I’m not out and about with a brick on my back.

There was some sentimental value to this water bottle as well, as my partner was the one who bought this and gave it to me. Said partner though, has moved on to a YETI bottle that they got as a work freebie (to be completely fair, the YETI bottle is just … better), so we’re no longer even matching, which is why I say this bottle HAD sentimental value.

With the ever-changing water bottle market, the next ‘it’ bottle to take over Stanley might just be around the corner as we know it. Will I swap out my poor Contigo when it becomes a big hit? Honestly, if it the lifestyle that it’s selling matches mine better than my Contigo, I might.






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