The Best of Fails – 3rd Edition

Earth talks: Best of Fails
Even with the best of intentions, at times we fail. Each month we shine a light on a branding event that meant to make something better, and instead messed it up phenomenally.

This time we take to paddles.

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race:
more bottles than boats.

Plastic pollution is the trending topic of the year. With billions of bottles spoiling our oceans and David Attenborough campaigning to save all our beloved penguins before it’s too late, reusable cups and water bottles are flying off the shelves and brands are scrambling to come up with the best waste-tackling solutions.

Meanwhile, London’s just seen off another Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. About a quarter of a million people descend on the banks of the Thames every April to see the rowers of the two university towns take each other on. For the third year running, they have proudly partnered up with Smartwater.

On their website we read:

Seemingly, this seems like a smart choice indeed. It’s bottled in the UK, so we’re not shipping them half way around the world. Good news. And the bottles are made from plants.

Or are they?

Let’s see. The bottles are recyclable, along with every other plastic bottle today. They’re made with “up to 30% plant-based materials”. This means that they can legally make this claim even if they contain 0.1% plant. The bottles are not biodegradable and produce the same amount of plastic pollution as any other.

A yearly “trashfest” on the river Thames

Smartwater is being handed out for free to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Paddler ezine, the online publication for paddling enthusiasts, calls The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race “a Classic River Trashfest”, and say it “annually produces tons of plastic trash filling bins and polluting the Thames. 2017 was an epic year for trash as warm weather brought many people to the riverside and the trash was still blowing around some riverside spaces for days after.”

A brand unfit for its own purpose

Coca-Cola owned Smartwater is positioned as a brand that is good for your body and the environment, while its beneficial health properties are as unsubstantiated as its “plant based” environmental credentials. Coca-Cola have admitted they produce 200,000 plastic bottles every minute. There’s no amount of brand repositioning that can make up for environmental harm on this scale.

Our fix for this fail

We call on the organisers of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race 2020 to seek a truly smart water sponsor. If they’re quick about it, they can put an order in with excellent Edinburgh based start-up Choose Water for next year’s event. We’re impressed with their authenticity as a purpose-led brand, and we’re very fond of their visual branding too.

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The Earth team