Louisville Water Company has produced water since 1860, but people have been asking for it by name – Louisville pure tap® - since 1997. We were the first, and as far as we know, the only branded public water supply anywhere to trademark its name. Why did we give something like water a name?
Why brand a water supply?
Many point to Louisville Water as one of the premier systems in the country, as well as the best tasting water in the country. But in the 1990s, negative publicity about deteriorating water quality sparked by the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the growing marketing activity by bottled water companies and water purification systems, began taking a toll on local consumer attitudes about tap water.
As the company responsible for providing the region with a safe water supply and communicating valuable information about water, Louisville Water looked for a way to help combat the myths spread by over-zealous marketers, distinguish it from the “bad actors” in other parts of the world, and restore its position as a high-quality provider with its customers.
Why Louisville pure tap®?
The seeds for the campaign were planted when results of a blind taste test of bottled waters ran in The Courier-Journal in May 1996. Louisville’s chilled tap water scored higher than the bottled brands. The article also listed terms commonly used by bottled water companies. The word “pure,” when attached to any product, was considered more a term of art than of science and fair game for clever application.
Focus group research conducted the month after the article was published showed that people bought bottled waters because of its perceived health benefit, convenience and, of course, “snob appeal.” When asked specifically about local water quality, most respondents had high praise for its taste and overall quality. In fact, many respondents disclosed that they refilled the brand name bottle with local tap water.
“Bottle Your Own Water”
Armed with a great product and solid research, the “Louisville pure tap®” seed found fertile soil and the idea of a branded water supply began to grow. Since customers did appreciate the local water quality, it was decided the focus should be on the only real difference between bottled and tap – the bottle!
Louisville pure tap® Bottle Your Own campaign centered on the opportunity to overcome the convenience divide between tap and bottled water, while addressing both the quality and snob appeal issues. Nearly 43,000 bottles were distributed at local community events during the first full year of the campaign. In 1999, Louisville Water created a mascot, Tapper, to promote water in the community. He was a hit!
Louisville pure tap® – keeping up with the times – and growing demand
The demand for Louisville pure tap® grew by leaps and bounds. In fact, the original concept of encouraging customers to “bottle your own” water quickly changed based on community demand for convenient bottled water at numerous community runs, walks, fairs and gatherings.
The demand was so great that in 2001 Louisville Water opened its own bottling line at the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant and introduced eight-ounce bottles of Louisville pure tap ®. These smaller bottles soon become an integral part of outdoor events throughout the Metro area. The bottling line also made it possible for Louisville pure tap® to be delivered outside the service area. In 2005, 10,000 bottles of Louisville pure tap ® were sent to rescue teams helping Hurricane Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast.
By 2007, more than one million bottles of Louisville pure tap ® were given to more than 800 community organizations -- and the demand wasn’t slowing down. In fact, the brand experienced another growth spurt in 2008 when the American Water Works Association chose Louisville pure tap ® as “Best Tasting Tap Water in America.”
Returning to its roots
By just about any measure, the Louisville pure tap® brand has been a success. It is in high demand, and customer satisfaction with Louisville’s water is strong. But a funny thing happened along the way. Customer research showed that the water inside the bottle was sometimes seen as a separate product from the water coming from every faucet and fountain in town. Even some new employees of Louisville Water thought Louisville pure tap® was a separate product. The medium for the message was overshadowing the product inside.
The bottle had become an issue in another way as well. As a company committed to environmental stewardship, Louisville Water decided that the existing disposable plastic bottle, although convenient, needed to be retired.
When Louisville pure tap® turned 15, the Louisville pure tap ® logo received a fresh new look, and Louisville Water revived the primary message that customers can “bottle your own” Louisville pure tap ® using any cup, glass or bottle.
Louisville pure tap® at 21
As Louisville Water marks the 21st anniversary of the trademark, the initial idea behind the campaign is still relevant: a platform to highlight the value of water. Today, the pure tap effort is at the core of Louisville Water’s customer education and outreach. This grass-roots marketing effort now includes five-gallon coolers and compostable cups, mobile water units, reusable bottles and branding above select drinking water fountains and bottle fill stations. There’s a “purely local” campaign where businesses talk about how they serve water; a social media campaign that includes college students tweeting about how much they miss Louisville Water when they leave home; and the value of water is a key component of economic development where Louisville pure tap® is served and highlighted at events that focus on bringing jobs to the region.
In 1860, Louisville Water began as a struggling utility trying to market a product that many people didn’t use and certainly didn’t see a need – tap water. Today, Louisville Water is recognized as an asset to the region and there’s no argument about the need for a high-quality supply of water. Raise your glass for a toast to 21 years of calling our water by its own name! A toast, by the way, for which an ID is not required. Cheers!