3—The story of bottled water
In Australia people are lucky to have clean tap water to drink, so it is ironic that people in developed countries spend so much on bottled water. Bottling water creates pollution (carbon emissions) in production, transportation and disposal. Drinking bottled water in developed countries is mostly unnecessary, thus the bottled water industry is an example of manufacturing demand by advertisers heavily marketing bottled water.
As a class, watch The Story of Bottled Water, a film made for the non-profit The Story of Stuff Project and released on World Water Day 2010.
Have students view the film both as an example of a text that aims to persuade the viewer to agree with its point of view and to take action to solve a problem, and as background research for their own scripts. From the website: ‘The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.’
The annotated script of The Story of Bottled Water allows students to see the source of its facts and information.
Small group work
Have students look at the footnoted version of the script — does it seem to be a reliable text? With the film and footnoted script in mind, does it seem to be a balanced view on the subject? For example, it states that soft drink (soda) sales were falling and soft drink manufacturers had to think of a way to increase sales. Might soft drink manufacturers instead have been interested in people’s health in offering bottled water as an alternative? Could there be favourable interviews with bottled water manufacturers and statistics on improved health when bottled water is available?
Trying to see from the point of view of your opposition can help develop an advertising campaign. Assemble the students in their creative teams. Have students play Devil’s Advocate (take up an argument or position you don’t necessarily agree with to create debate), and think from the point of view of bottled water companies. Each team should have a scribe to make notes of ideas and a presenter who shares with the class.
Studying The Story of Bottled Water as a persuasive text
Looking at the use of modality in the transcript will help determine if the writer is doing a ‘soft’ or ‘hard sell’ of their argument to stop using bottled water. Revise the idea that using low modality words of obligation, certainty and probability, might constitute a ‘soft sell’, while using high modality words would constitute a ‘hard sell’.
High modality words and phrases
Medium modality words and phrases
Low modality words
must, ought to, has to, definitely, certainly, always, never
will, should, can, need to, I think, probably, apparently, often, usually
may, might, could, would, possibly, perhaps, seems, appears, maybe, sometimes
Have creative teams each examine one or two pages of the Story of Bottled Water script by Annie Leonard for levels of modality. They should highlight all modality words and phrases, grade them into low, medium and high, then count the instances of each type. From the number of each type of modality words they might then judge the level of modality in the text overall (modality is mostly low to medium with a few instances of high modality).
The Story of Bottled Water is a script to be spoken and uses informal language and constructions. It appears to be designed to engage younger viewers (as one target audience) by use of animation, and aims to explain difficult ideas simply.
The level of nominalisation can help determine the level of formality or informality of a text. Nominalisation is the process of the formation of a noun from a verb or verb clause or from an adjective. Endings such as -ion, -ment (verb to noun) and -ness and -ity (adjective to noun) often indicate nominalisation. Examples.
Have creative teams search the transcript of The Story of Water for -ion, -ment and -ness endings. They will notice that virtually all such endings are found in the more academic, formal footnotes.
Choose several of the more informal paragraphs from The Story of Bottled Water for students in their creative teams to transform into very formal writing using nominalisation. Focus on turning verbs in the text into nouns. Model how to highlight verb groups. Point out that it’s not just a question of nominalisation — that whole sentences have to be rewritten and the sentences become passive rather than active when the agency is removed. Use this example text, or create your own.
A rewritten paragraph can help show how overusing nominalisation can create writing that appears too dense and formal for a young audience. Does the example paragraph when rewritten sound formal and stilted? One benefit is a drastically reduced word count, but which would students prefer to read or hear spoken? Encourage the students to have fun turning their simply written paragraph into tortured prose.
Share read the first page of The Story of Bottled Water transcript to the fourth paragraph on page 2, and discuss the concept of manufactured demand. Use the quote on page 4: ‘Scaring us, seducing us, and misleading us — these strategies are all core parts of manufacturing demand.’ Share read footnote 7, which has more information on manufactured demand. Focus on this quote to provoke discussion on how advertisements manipulate us to want things: ‘The main tool to promote manufactured demand is advertising.’
On selling bottled water: ‘People are buying into the dream,’ said the panellist Todd Sampson on the ABC television show The Gruen Transfer (Series 2: Episode 3–‘Selling Bottled Water’), in a show that has a critical/humorous focus on advertising. What ‘dream’, ‘story’ or ‘fantasy’ is the ‘advertiser’ trying to sell you in the Story of Bottled Water. Have students discuss this, then write individual responses.