How Orson Welles Sold Water
Perriers American transformation
began with television ads in 1977
For the first three decades of the 1900s, Perrier supplied Buckingham Palace with the champagne of waters. After its founder, British entrepreneur St. John Harmsworth, died in 1933, and later, with the onset of World War II, production all but collapsed.
Under [Chairman Gustave] Leven, it again began to flourish. Thanks to mass advertising, sales grew fifteen-fold between 1946 and 1952, from 10 million bottles to 150 million. By the mid-1970s, Perrier was the top sparkling water in France.
Soon, Leven set his sights across the Atlantic. In 1976, Perrier opened an office in New York. Leven shared his scheme with hard-charging American marketing executive Bruce Nevins, who had recently left Levi Strauss.
The hindrance seemed obvious: Who would pay for water when they could get it for free? At the time, the only water people bought came primarily in the form of jugs delivered to homes and offices for use in coolers.
Perrier would not change this paradigm many predicted. McKinsey, for one, carried out a study concluding that the sparkling French water did not have a viable future in the United States.
Perriers American transformation began with television ads in the spring of 1977. They were straightforward, but ear-catching and eye-catching More quenching, more refreshing, and a mixer par excellence, intoned the rich baritone of Orson Welles in a Perrier advertisement dated 1979, as a bubbling stream cascaded from a green bottle and swirled into a clear goblet. Naturally sparkling, from the center of the earth, the actor continued. He wrapped up the ad with a single word, the Rs perfectly French: Perrier.
Nevins lowered the price of a 23-ounce bottle from $1.09 ($4.30 today) to 69 cents ($2.72 in 2016 dollars)within the reach of a certain strata of society, but significant enough that buying it still constituted a statement. It rested in that sweet spot of being simultaneously aspirational and accessible.
From the website Priceonomics.com, The Ad Campaign that Convinced Americans
to Pay for Water, June 10, Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2016
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Who would pay for water when they could get it for free? At the time, the only water people bought came primarily in the form of jugs delivered to homes and offices for use in coolers.