H20 to Go: marketing and materiality in the normalization of bottled water

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De Wolff, Kimberley
Sociology , Bottled water , Brands , Consumption , Marketing
This thesis aims to explore the rise in the consumption of bottled water and the dominant narratives of normalization that seek to explain it. Commonly understood as the cumulative result of the power of marketing and misinformation, or the gullibility of ‘irrational’ consumers, the pervasive phenomenon of drinking bottled water is explained as another instance of the commodification of everything. However, these narratives contain a rather surprising omission: while it may seem obvious to state that bottled water is about bottles and water, the role of the bottles themselves in enabling the consumption of water ‘on the go’ to become such a ‘normal’ aspect of daily life is noticeably absent. I argue, by drawing upon work in consumer culture studies, sociologies of the brand, and material culture, that we need to reconsider the role of bottled water as both a brand and material object. Following the trajectories of two major brands of bottled water – Perrier and Dasani – through a content analysis of marketing and associated materials, I illustrate some of the diverse ways in which bottles, water, marketing and consumption are interrelated in the divergent and convergent trajectories of ongoing processes of normalization. In conclusion, I consider how such theoretical and empirical observations pose difficult questions and new challenges for those seeking to alter practices of consumption.
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