Bottled Water: The Marketing Trick of the Century (Advanced ESL Lesson Plan)

ESL Level: Advanced

Lesson Topic: The marketing success of bottled water

Skill Focus: Reading, Vocabulary, Speaking

Lesson Plan Downloadmarketing-bottled-water-advanced-30032017.docx

Approximate Class Time: Two hours

Bottled water: a scam?

Health & Diet ESL Lesson Plan: Warm-Up

  1. What are some products you buy for health reasons?
  2. Would you feel embarrassed to be seen in public with a McDonald’s bag?
  3. When you hear the phrase The Marketing Trick of the Century, what products do you think of?
  4. What’s your opinion of tap water?

Reading: The Marketing Trick of the Century

What do North Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Western Europeans pay up to 10,000 times the price for even though it’s available for free? The answer is bottled water, and the success of this $13-billion-dollar industry (in the U.S.) is what some people call the marketing trick of the century.

From a marketing perspective, bottled water giants such as Coke and Pepsi have capitalized on people’s desire to live healthier with slogans such as “hydration is healthy” (Dasani) or “a naturally pure and mineral-balanced water supports your body’s youth” (Evian). These slogans are often accompanied by images of glaciers that give consumers the idea the water is taken fresh from a natural spring. The truth is that nearly half of bottled water in the US, Canada, and the U.K. is just treated tap water from municipal sources. This message, originally hidden, can now be seen in the small print on bottles since companies were forced to cave in to pressure from environmental groups a few years ago.

If it is ‘treated’ tap water though, doesn’t this mean it’s better? Not really, according to a 2008 study by the Environmental Working Group that found that bottled water had the same level of contaminants as tap water. Also, in the U.S, U.K, and Canada, tap water has more stringent health standards than those imposed on bottled water manufacturers, suggesting bottled water may be even unhealthier. Lastly, regarding taste, countless blind taste tastes (one conducted by the New York Times) have shown that tap water was equal or better tasting to consumers.

The victim of the bottled water industry is not only the consumer. The majority of the 3 million tons of plastic used yearly worldwide ends up in landfills or the ocean. Additionally, it takes 3 litres of water to package one bottle, which can take 700 years to begin to decompose.

What’s more absurd, consumers are paying exorbitant prices for a product that, being municipal water, is subsidized by their own tax money. The resource is also unbelievably cheap. For example, the province of British Columbia only charges companies $2.50 for every 1 million litres of water. Considering a single bottle of water is sold for approximately the same price, it’s no wonder giant corporations like Nestle are eagerly vying to tap into this profitable market.


Environment (ESL) Lesson Plan: Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the main idea of the passage?
  2. According to the article, why do many people buy bottled water?
  3. What hidden truth did bottled-water companies want to hide?
  4. According to the author, is bottled water healthier?
  5. Who (or what) does the second past paragraph suggest is the other victim of this industry?
  6. What’s your opinion of the article?
Possible Answers
  1. The main idea is that bottled water is a surprising marketing success considering the product is (usually) tap water and it is also quite environmentally harmful.
  2. People buy bottled water because they believe it is healthier than its alternatives.
  3. They wanted to hide the truth that often their water is taken from municipal sources.
  4. No, the author argues that the bottled water industry is less regulated, and therefore, its water is likely unhealthier.
  5. The environment is the other victim of the industry.

Environment (ESL) Lesson Plan: Discussion Questions

Write down two questions below related to the topic of the article. Then ask them to your classmates. The first question has been written for you.

  • How often do you buy bottled water? Why?

Environment (ESL) Lesson Plan: Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the article.

  1. to capitalize (on something)
  2. a slogan
  3. a glacier
  4. a spring
  5. to cave in (to something)
  6. stringent
  7. landfill
  8. to decompose
  9. absurd
  10. exorbitant
  11. to subsidize
  12. v. to vie
  1. a phrase used to advertise a product
  2. unreasonably high
  3. a slowly moving mass of ice found in mountains
  4. to break down; to decay or become rotten
  5. a place where waste is buried and covered with soil
  6. ridiculous; silly
  7. to compete eagerly to achieve something
  8. to take a chance to gain an advantage
  9. strict
  10. a place where water wells up from an underground source
  11. to support financially
  12. to stop resisting to pressure
1H, 2A, 3C, 4J, 5L, 6I, 7E, 8D, 9F, 10B, 11K, 12G

Vocabulary Homework

Circle the words that were new for you. Add them to your vocabulary notebook and make sentences for homework.

ESL Lesson Plan: Debate: Ban the Bottle

You and your partner are members of the student council at your college. Your college receives money from Coca Cola, which sells its products including Dasani water in vending machines on campus. The student council has called a meeting to discuss banning the sale of plastic water bottles on campus.

Student A: You are for the ban. Think of reasons to support your argument. When you are ready, you can start the debate.

Student B:  You are against the ban. Think of reasons to support your argument. Your partner will start the debate when ready.

Extension: Watch and discuss the four-minute video “What really happens to the plastic you throw away” by Emma Bryce from TED/Ed:

ESL Lesson Plan: Additional Discussion Questions

  1. Find a bottle of water in your classroom. What is its slogan? Where does it say the water comes from?
  2. Could you distinguish bottled water from tap water in a blind taste test?
  3. When people travel, is it okay to buy bottled water?
  4. Is recycling too much trouble?
  5. What’s your opinion of the marketing industry? Would you work as a marketer if it meant selling a product dishonestly?


Bottled Water (ESL) Lesson Plan copyright Matthew Barton of

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5 comments on “Bottled Water: The Marketing Trick of the Century (Advanced ESL Lesson Plan)

  1. Wendy Webber (Posted on 3-10-2018 at 21:59) Reply

    Great lesson plan. My students really enjoyed it.

  2. Mma (Posted on 10-12-2018 at 02:26) Reply

    What a great idea for a lesson! I’d develop the vocab secion a bit more, but the role plays and the warm-up questions are really inquisitive in all your lesson plans. I love it. Thanks so much!

  3. AJB (Posted on 3-15-2021 at 13:39) Reply

    Thanks again for your lessons! Matthew, with regards to the short articles that you create, do you have to get permission from the original authors before you rewrite them and put them onto your site?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-15-2021 at 13:58) Reply

      Hello. I do not get permission from my research sources when I write my summary. The ideas from the articles are paraphrased (not copied) and I do cite them, as you’ve noticed, at the end of the article. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the lessons.

  4. AJB (Posted on 3-15-2021 at 14:16) Reply

    Thanks, Matthew.

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