Topic: Business & Commercial
The Aquafina Deceit: Corporate America on the Slippery Slope
Beginning in 1990, corporations responded to regulatory and judicial
pressure by implementing ethics procedures, rules and training sessions.
Many of them, and perhaps the majority, did not become ethical, however.
Enron, we now know, was simply the tip of a gigantic iceberg of greed,
cynicism, cronyism and incompetence that, combined with bi-partisan inattention
and miscalculations by government officials, led to a nationwide, system-wide,
economic meltdown. We can bail out, lecture, condemn, prosecute, re-tool,
nationalize and regulate, but until the people running corporations actually
possess a high regard for honesty and integrity, the conduct that brought
us to this crisis will continue. That is because the corporate culture
accepts little lies and swindles as part of doing business, something
“everybody” does. And if little lies and swindles don’t bother you or
tingle your conscience, the bigger lies and swindles are much easier to
accept. It is clear that corporate America lives on the slippery slope
of ethics. And corporate executives are far too comfortable there.
Consider the saga of PepsiCo’s Aquafina Bottled Water. On the bottle
is a graphic showing picturesque mountains with a red-orange sun behind
them. The label includes the slogan, "Pure Water-Perfect Taste."
But Aquafina is actually bottled tap water, sold at a premium price. A
recent lawsuit against the company for deceptive advertising was just
thrown out of court, because Pepsi’s lawyers made sure they carefully
threaded the needle between deceit and fraud. You see, the FDA definition
of “pure” doesn’t include any requirement about a “pure” substance’s source;
toilet water could theoretically meet the FDA’s standard for “pure.” And
the label picture itself does not, as matter of law, assert that the water
is from a mountain stream. In fact, there is a notation elsewhere on the
label that says, "BOTTLED AT THE SOURCE P.W.S.”
P.W.S…Public Water Supply, get it?
Yup, those Pepsi execs are clever, and their lawyers are sharp as lawn
darts. And none of their careful efforts to deceive people while not breaking
laws and regulations changes the fact that the label and the marketing
of Pepsi’s Aquafina is completely unethical, carefully designed to mislead
consumers. Do you think the picture of the mountains is just there as
decoration? An accident? Maybe they considered birds, or bunnies, or the
Care Bears? Bottled water, mountains, and “pure” equals mountain stream
water to most consumers, and Pepsi knows that. The P.W.S is an especially
nice touch: 100% true, and absolutely slimy. Oh, you thought P. W. S.
was “Pure Water Stream?” Gee, we didn’t mean that. It’s Public
Water Supply; we thought that was obvious! We just used initials to save
How many of these clever little lies and deceptions go on every day, as the routine business practices of major corporations in virtually every market and sphere of business? Thousands upon thousands. And they sell a lot more than glorified tap water.
When lying is imbedded in the corporate culture to this extent, it only
takes a little pressure…an aggressively hard-driving leader, a sales shortfall,
new competition, stockholder unrest… to push the resistance to lies and
deception a bit lower. Not every company will descend into full ethical
free-fall. But the potential is there. That’s life on the slippery slope.
Aquafina tells us all we need to know about how highly corporations regard
the truth if they can get away with profitable lies.
It’s as clear as a mountain stream.