Posted by Ingrid Fetell on September 25, 2009 04:43 PM
It's no secret that the bottled water industry is headed for life support. Between rising environmental consciousness and a sagging economy, showing off your premium water label is about as socially acceptable an image as Ruth Madoff shopping at Hermés. So it's no surprise that trendspotters greeted the latest designer water bottle, a collaboration between Evian and Paul Smith, with a giant collective yawn.
The collaboration strikes a remarkably different tone than past notable designer waters (Ty Nant and Lovegrove, Evian and Gaultier, Glacier and Starck). In the bad old days when water was a status symbol, packaging values emphasized luxe cues: elegant typography, sleek curves, and delicate surface treatments. The purported functional benefit was purity, an image conveyed by a general tendency towards minimalism. But luxe is out, and now that the display of wealth is considered distasteful, premium water is searching for relevance to the cultural mood.
That's why the choice of Paul Smith, a designer known for his whimsical, childlike approach to the world, is interesting. His vibrant stripes, which would have run counter to the pure luxury of the past, now speak to a downtrodden elite eager for permission to let loose a little. The colorful, energetic treatment is also a perfect expression of the new functional benefit embodied in Evian's positioning, "live young," which attempts to shift water away from an association with materialism and overconsumption towards hydration as health and vitality.
It's a huge contrast: between purity and color, scarcity and abundance, refined maturity and exuberant youth. By wrapping the bottle up in a burst of good cheer, Evian is effectively joywashing their product, and hoping it will have a halo effect onto the brand.
It's a shrewd move. Water is a malleable commodity, and the tone is spot-on for right now. But water's problems run deeper, and it's hard to believe this collaboration will do more than sell a few $13.95 bottles to design freaks. But it may signal a kind of emotional positioning we'll be seeing lots more of in the near future.