Humor vs. Dire Straights – Challenging the conventional NGO Approach

Corporations line up to fight wasting water

If we are to understand the global water crisis, we must first ask, “Who uses more water: people, agriculture or food processors?” Secondly, we must know if the problem of lack of safe drinking water for close to a billion people on the planet stems from a lack of awareness of the importance of this issue or a failure to act appropriately.

In a 2011 survey of adults living in the U.S., Dallas-based Shelton Group gave respondents a handful of environmental choices and asked them to choose just one, or they could opt for a million dollars. Thirty-five percent selected making clean water for the world a priority and only 28 percent chose to take the money. The other third of respondents picked other options: stop global warming, save the rainforests, and save the world’s endangered species.

So in the case of the world’s drinking water needs, it’s pretty clear that awareness is quite high, which may be why some non-governmental organizations (NGO, for short) target their donor appeals to this cause.

The result is that campaigns for humanity often employ traditional and social media advertising strategies that depict deplorable situations. But how organizations call attention to a problem of crisis proportion may just be the problem.

USEPA took note of this is partnering with advertising executives in a new campaign that uses humor instead of the guilt approach in an effort to get people to conserve tap water. The “Wasting Water Is Weird” campaign employs “Rip the Drip” as its primary spokesperson. Rip – as in the guy’s a “drip,” a derogatory phrase from the 1950s applied to annoying youth — is definitely not someone you want to discover in your driveway, bathroom or kitchen.

But that’s exactly where “Rip the Drip,” whose attire consists of a so-called “wife-beaters” undershirt and day old(s) facial hair growth, appears in the videos and ads in several 30-second executions initially rolled out on YouTube, and according to trade industry news reports, also to 60-plus TV markets. The premise of the omnipresent nerd in the life of the onscreen average Jane and Joe’s is to be the angry voice inside each of us that says do the opposite of what we’re being asked to do (a very sophisticated read on today’s authority-resistant culture). So, “Rip the Drip” reminds consumers who unthinkingly waste water doing everyday chores, such as letting the faucet run while brushing teeth, to think about their actions. He does this by acknowledging how much he likes wasting water. Offscreen, according to the agency’s storyline, Rip works at a water park, takes long showers, opens fire hydrants for fun, and loves listening to running faucets.

Marketing professionals will tell you that it takes more than awareness of an issue to affect changes in behavior: witness anti-smoking, anti-drug and teen pregnancy campaigns. And Shelton’s own research found that over 60 percent of people already turn off the water when brushing their teeth. So, is the purpose of the videos and ads to remind those already aware of the need for home water conservation or a soft-pitch to the 40 percent who don’t turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth?

It’s True: You Know the Value of Water When The Well Runs Dry

And what about the  take-away message that, “The moment using water becomes wasting water, it gets weird?” In fact, there is nothing weird about wasting water. Just ask folks in Georgia and Texas where real water crises have occurred in recent years. But true to the day, in an effort to engage like-minded consumers, the wastingwaterisweird.com website links to social media.

Sponsors looking to make water saving part of their corporate social responsibility program include Bosch home appliances, Kohler, Lowe’s and Procter & Gamble, which underwrote production costs of the video.

But a secondary goal is to build awareness for WaterSense, an EPA program, similar to its Energy Star, that encourages people to choose products that conserve water. While the effort is important, the typical American uses about 99 gallons of water a day for home use. That include showering, washing clothes, bathing, toilet-flushing, cooking, and outdoor watering. But that amount is actually dwarfed by the amount of water used on a daily basis by electrical power plants.

Each day, coal, nuclear and natural gas use almost five times the amount of water used on a daily basis by the 300-plus Americans — combined — including an additional 250 gallons of water per American per day to generate our daily electricity. And by the way, according to a report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it is estimated that 69 percent of worldwide water use is for irrigation, and in many developing nations, irrigation accounts for over 90% of water withdrawn from available sources. (1)

As for food manufacturing, the water used to process food may not ultimately deplete the water coming to your tap, but it may affect another persons water supply. Consider that according to water footprint.org, it takes 634 gallons (2,400 liters) of water to grow and process and deliver one hamburger to one consumer while the global average water footprint for each kilogram of beef consumed is over 4,000 gallons (15,500 liters) of water.

(1)World Business Council for Sustainable Development “Water Facts & Trends,
version 2” (2009) http://www.wbcsd.org/DocRoot/lD1tMGiLZ7NL9mBOL2aQ/
WaterFactsAndTrends-Update.pdf

About Me

Jonathan Hall is a drinking water advocate. He blogs at hallwater.com and has worked as an independent strategy and social media content consultant.