Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fish out of water

GE has an underactive "ecomagination". In their new commercial, which is titled "fishing" and can be viewed at, a fishing boat hauls a net overflowing with clear and fresh bottles of water from the ocean. The fishermen excitedly sort through their catch; one proudly displays an impressive four foot long bottle. A voiceover boasts that GE technology is turning saltwater into drinkable water.

The practice of making ocean water safe for human consumption is less ecological and innovative than it is disturbing. If there is a need for this technology it is because we are depleting and damaging our freshwater resources. GE's "ecomagination" campaign suggests we should solve a problem we have created not by learning from our mistakes but by stepping on as-yet untapped, undepleted, and less damaged resources. It suggests that if the water around us is disappearing or dirty, we should drink up and pollute away. GE will come to the rescue.

But beyond being troubled by the underlying message of the ad, I question the efficacy of the ad itself. If the "ecoimagination" campaign is meant to appeal to the eco-conscious, it is a sure misfire. Not only might GE's desalinization technology be unimpressive to this demographic, but the imagery used in the ad will likely evoke thoughts opposite those intended by the execs who conceptualized the ad.

For example, the ecologically aware tend to be concerned about the resources used in bottling water; seeing hundreds of plastic bottles hauled out of the ocean could bring to mind waste and environmental destruction rather than joyously clean and bountiful harvest. Furthermore, recent research suggests the ocean's fish supplies will largely disappear by the middle of this century at current fishing rates, so likening exploitation of the ocean's water to that of the ocean's fish is more likely to disturb than impress anyone who is thinking beyond what store their next Dasani will come from.

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