This paper aims to account for the crafting of the constellation of brand and consumer values around an everyday product, that of bottled water. This paper situates the exponential growth of this market in its historical and cultural context, paying particular attention to the fostering of the “social conditions of possibility” for this product in the French market. The socio-historical context and the interplay of stakeholders to the respondents’ understanding and uses of bottled water, highlighting the importance of a range of factors that made this market and product resonate with their requirements, are linked.
This account responds to the call for more engagement with social theory in marketing and consumer research (Brownlie and Hewer, 2011). It also connects with recent scholarly pleas for a displacement of the consumer from the center of our analytic attention (Askegaard and Linnet, 2011; Holt, 2012). It does so by using the social praxeology approach associated with Pierre Bourdieu to study the affirmation and sedimentation of the practices surrounding the consumption of bottled water in France.
Influential institutional actors invoked discourses of purity, nature and health, juxtaposing these with the risks of tap water consumption. These were cemented by the influence of pediatricians who encouraged changes in family drinking habits which translated into long-term shifts in consumer behavior. By contrast to studies of different contexts, our respondents were greatly enamored by the materiality of the products themselves, using these in innovative ways for aesthetic pursuits. The social praxeology approach uncovers how brand and consumer value have been constructed in the French bottled water market.
This study is based on the historical development and growth of the market for bottled water in France. It would be a valuable exercise to investigate other contexts to determine whether the strategies of symbolic competition, especially the use of expert intermediaries rich in cultural capital that can be identified, are reflected elsewhere.
Bottled water producers will have to confront the issue of the resource-intensiveness of their products. This feature stands in marked contrast to the symbolic capital and points of differentiation that producers have weaved around bottled water. Such contradictions will be exposed by actors in other fields (e.g. the environmental movement). This can be expected to have an impact on the consumption and viability of this market in future.
This paper uses a philosophical framework – social praxeology – to chart the development, affirmation and exponential growth of the bottled water market. Via a combination of historical re-construction and empirical research, it highlights the interactive relationships between government, producers and consumers, uncovering brand and consumer value creation.
Brei, V. and Tadajewski, M. (2015), "Crafting the market for bottled water: a social praxeology approach", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49 No. 3/4, pp. 327-349. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-03-2013-0172
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