H₂NO, or the time when Coca-Cola went evil

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I remember back in late 90's being bombarded with ads about "take care of the water, because it is going to end soon". If you aren't old enough, you may have been said in school about the dangerous fact of potable water sources ending sometime in the future, like if water was a non-renewable resource, like oil is.

Geez, I even remember a niece that asked me a few years ago about the issue, a topic they were discussing in high school. I then sat down and explained her how that was a marketing construct aimed to build fear in people to make them pay more for drinkable water. "But... what if we really go out of sweet water?" she asked. "Simple: desalinization of the oceans" I replied. And there the discussion ended.

And in one of those random browsing times, I stumbled upon this incredible episode in Coca-Cola's history, the time when they made a marketing campaign specifically made to boost their income and make people order their products instead of simple water in restaurants. And they succeeded.

From this article at Wikipedia:

H2NO refers to an upselling campaign by Coca-Cola to dissuade consumers from ordering tap water drinks at restaurants, and to instead order more profitable soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages, or bottled water. The campaign's title, H2NO, reflects the program's purpose, which is to have customers say No to H2O, the chemical formula for water. The program taught waiters how to use "suggestive selling techniques" to offer a variety of alternative beverages when diners asked for water.

In July 2001, a link to a story about the program's success at Olive Garden was posted to Cockeyed.com. The link was reposted around the internet, until the story was taken down by Coca-Cola on August 2, 2001, for fears it might be misinterpreted. On August 20, 2001, the story was covered by The New York Times, and subsequently by a number of news providers.

In a success story on Coca-Cola's online public relations portal, entitled "The Olive Targets Tap Water & WINS", Coca-Cola described the purpose, implementation, and success in reducing "tap water incidence".

Coca-Cola stated that customers chose tap water out of habit, and that selling alternative beverages would increase guest satisfaction:

Water. It's necessary to sustain life, but to many Casual Dining restaurant chains it contributes to a dull dining experience for the customer. Many customers choose tap water not because they enjoy it, but because it is what they always have drunk in the past. In response, some restaurant chains are implementing programs to help train crews to sell alternative choices to tap water, like soft drinks and non-carbonated beverages, with the goal of increasing overall guest satisfaction.

Olive Garden's stated goal was "to influence customers to abandon their default choice of tap water and experience other beverage choices to improve their dining experience".

The success story noted how "because of its own successful campaign against water, The Olive Garden has recently sent a powerful message to the entire restaurant industry - less water and more beverage choices mean happier customers"] stating how:

When the contest was completed, almost all participating restaurants realized significant increases in beverage sales and reduced levels of tap water incidence - a strong indication that Olive Garden restaurants succeeded in enhancing the customer's dining experience. And perhaps most importantly, Olive Garden expects to see this trend continue as the skills learned become part of the crew's everyday interaction with restaurant customers.

There was heavy criticism against the initiative, and mainstream media had coverage for it. In the end, the campaign ran only in the United States and evidence of it was removed from Coca-Cola online sources. Yet a lot of evidence stands all over nowadays Internet.

Putting this episode aside, drinking water became a very profitable business for Coca-Cola and its competitors. I wonder how many people actually drinks tap water and not bottled water.

Source: Wikipedia.

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