Opinion: Thames Water ads are just hogwash

I am convinced that one of the things lacking in most boardrooms is a sense of the ludicrous. Too many companies seem to be institutionally incapable of seeing how anyone could possibly take the piss out of them. Strangely, two of the most wonderful examples of this corporate blindness have been related to water.

Who, for example, can ever forget the laughs provided by Coca-Cola's attempts to do a Del Boy and repackage boring old tap-water as a designer tipple? More recen­tly, Thames Water has treated us to an almost surreal piece of self-denial in the form of a £1.8m advertising campaign.

I refer to the gloriously shot full-colour ads featuring landmarks such as Battersea Power Station, the Tower of London and City Hall full to the brim with shimmering H2O, under the line: 'Our new pipes will save this much water every two weeks.' Is it just me, or does this beg the question: is this really how much you've been losing?

In fact, Thames Water has missed its targets on leaks for the past four years and is currently losing 894 million litres of water from its creaking Victorian pipes every day.  But as the average Joe finds it hard to visualise this much water, Thames Water has kindly done the job for him, except of course that a water-filled Tower of London is actually a mere drop in the ocean of Thames Water's wastage.

Likewise, I wonder if anyone in Thames Water's  marketing department cracked a smile as a radio ad campaign was sanctioned, asking customers to turn off the tap when brushing their teeth and use old washing-up water on their plants.

But on a more sober note, as appalling as its own record may be, Thames Water does have a point.  We have a serious problem. Suddenly after the hottest July on record the concept of a drought in our grey little island doesn't seem quite so ludicrous, and hose-pipe bans are making us more aware of a commodity that we have hitherto taken for granted. 

The reality is that as global warming affects the northern hemisphere, the management of water supplies isn't just the responsibility of corporates, but of individuals, too.

But in a society that is focused almost exclusively on self-gratification, boy have we got a long wayto go. Only this weekend there was another story about people going to ridiculous extremes to beat hose-pipe bans. The Sunday Times found, among others, a 58-year-old marketing executive from Hendon who, having spent £15,000 on shrubs, watered his garden in the middle of the night, hiding behind bushes to escape detection by joggers.

It would be funny – if it wasn't so worrying.

kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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