Brands flock to Flint to ease water crisis - and soak up the publicity

It’s the kind of “free” publicity that money can’t buy. With the world’s attention riveted on the spectacle of Flint coping with the discovery that its drinking water has contained poison for almost two years, Cher surfaced with a donation of 181,440 17-ounce bottles of Icelandic Glacial water. Their alliance ensured blurbs on thousands of news and celebrity gossip sites and countless mentions and images of the product posted on social media. The next day, the water filtration company PUR told the Washington Post that it would be shipping 10,000 faucet-mounted water purifiers and 40,000 replacement cartridges to Flint. Another filtration company, ZeroWater, began a campaign in which it vowed to match donations of its products bought by the public through a special section for Flint on the company’s website. Brita has not publicized any donations this month. That may be because the Clorox subsidiary was burned by negative media coverage the last time around when it emerged that only the company’s faucet-mounted filtration system removed lead from water. The more commonly used Brita product, the white pitchers, don’t, but that distinction was lost on some in Flint who bought the pitchers. “If it is perceived as not being an effective solution to that problem and people come to associate it in their minds that way, that’s a dangerous way getting involved in this situation can backfire for a brand,” said Jeff Stoltman, a marketing professor at the Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business. “The accelerated way in which that can veer off course and come back to bite you is unique to where we find ourselves right now in this world of social media that we live in.”

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