Rhetoric of Water by David Peyer

The key to an effective advertisement is creating one that will not only stand out from the rest, but also convey a message to a specific, targeted audience. For this paper, I have chosen to analyze the commercial of the top-of-the-line water distributor, Fiji Water. This advertisement effectively uses pathos to convince its audience to buy their product, through a series of visual images and auditory cues. Their water is extracted from ancient aquifers that have been preserved from contamination of the industrialized world for the last three hundred years by deposits of clay or solid bedrock. Fiji claims that this water is the purest water left on Earth, which is justification for their 100,000% mark-up over regular tap water in most areas.

Fiji’s advertisement is a television commercial, so aspects such as visual images, music, and narration are all very important to analyzing the message that the company is trying to convey. It emphasizes the use of metaphor and visual images to evoke an emotional response from the audience. It begins with the profile of a beautiful woman staring off into the distance. This short sequence acts like the hook of the paper, to grab the audience’s attention. It then moves on to the same woman in a white bikini standing in a crystal pool of water. Pure white walls form the boundaries of the pool, and a worn picket fence surrounds the pool. Behind her are two palm trees planted in large, white pots with tall, white, modern skyscrapers in the background.

This scene is loaded with visual metaphors that are constructed to arouse very specific emotions in the viewer. The abundance of white in the scene, the woman’s bikini, the walls of the pool, the pots, and the building give a sense of purity and cleanliness. The motif is important because it transfers those same attributes onto Fiji’s product, water. Fiji utilizes the myth that purer water is inherently better in order to create a previously non-existent market for it. Bottled water is less regulated than tap water, and in most cases, is actually less pure; however, Fiji recognized the importance of what people believe rather than the truth. By using primarily white overtones, Fiji is able to associate the purity of the scene with the purity of the water. However, the purity of the water is negligible if the consumers believe they are drinking purified sewage water. To address this, Fiji implants images of nature into their advertisement. The most dominant of these images are the two palm trees swaying in the wind behind the woman. These trees not only bring nature into an otherwise sterilized and artificial world, but also provide another context. Traditionally, palm trees are only able to grow in very warm climates, so with the survival of the trees outside, the viewer infers that the location of this commercial is somewhere tropical. Normally, the ideal location for collecting water would be a glacial runoff, but Fiji gets their water from ancient aquifers, as well as taking their name from the tropical country where they collect it.

This commercial also plays on other common myths, such as the idea of “the good old days” and the idea that the country of Fiji is a mythical paradise. Fiji claims that their water is the purest water left on Earth because it has been protected from the last three hundred years of human contamination by natural aquifers. This harkens to the idea that things were cleaner before the industrial revolution, before industry and mass production were possible. However, people forget that three hundred years ago was a time when worldwide epidemics such as the Bubonic plague could wipe out a quarter of the world’s population in ten years. In addition to the purity of the past, Fiji Water uses the consumer’s belief that the country of Fiji is a tropical paradise that is natural and pure. Once again, reality is completely different. Fiji is ridden with political unrest, resulting in four military coups since 1987, and its primary export is timber harvested from the “tropical paradise” that the consumers believe still exists. These examples illustrate once again that the truth is irrelevant, in that advertisements sell to that in which people believe, or wish to believe.

This scene shifts to a few quick sequences of the woman moving slowly throughout the clear water, which emphasizes the connection between humans and water—and which also serves as a transition—but altogether holds no visual significance. The next important event is the transition into the display of the company’s name. To be effective, this transition must be done in such a way that it carries over all the emotion and visuals displayed in the body of the advertisement onto the company that produced it. This is achieved by using blossoming white flower shapes to fade from the woman and the pool into an all-white background with “Fiji” in blue letters. To solidify this connection, on the top of the second “I” in “Fiji”, a large red flower blossoms as the name comes to view. This flower has roughly the same appearance as the flower shapes used to transition from the pool scene into the current scene. This creates a visual connection to the events in the rest of the advertisement, as well as drawing the viewer’s attention to the company’s name.

Accompanying the visual images discussed above, the advertisement utilizes both tonal narration and relaxing music to reinforce the images being displayed. Throughout the commercial, a very soothing piano plays a melody consisting of lowering notes arranged in groups of four. To emphasize certain portions of the narration, the melody begins at a higher pitch and staccatos the first note of the series. Behind this simple melody is the sound of gently running water and birds chirping sweetly. The narration emerges perfectly with the metaphorical imagery and soothing music by slowly speaking in vague metaphors. It uses lines such as, “It carries our salvation…,” “It makes us whole…,” and “It can…cool our entire being.” The narrator is careful to never mention what “it” is, which allows the viewer to connect the visual image of the woman in the pool to what the narrator is saying. Also, all of these phrases give the viewer a sense of necessity, peace, and completeness summed up in the final line of the narration: “It is … paradise.” The narrator also uses phrases that exemplify “its” power. Phrases like, “With it we can move mountains…,” “Its presence is always bold…,” and “It surrounds us with sensations that make life worth living.” These phrases emphasize the advantages of “it” rather than “its” necessity, like the lines mentioned before. Overall, the narration and the acoustics serve the purpose of guiding the viewer’s interpretations through the use of soothing melody and vague metaphor.

As I said earlier, good rhetoric targets a specific audience so that its message can be conveyed powerfully. The same concept applies to this commercial. Fiji is obviously not targeting children or the elderly, but rather single, upper- to middle-class, young adults. Support for this claim can be seen throughout the visual images of the commercial. The most obvious evidence is the beautiful woman in a small bikini. It is a proven fact that sex-appeal sells products, so the use of this woman entices both men and women to continue paying attention to the commercial, while they are bombarded with the audio and visual devices discussed above. Further evidence that this commercial is targeting the upper- to middle-class is the price of their product. Fiji water costs at least $35 for a case of twenty-four 500 mL bottles. This is extraordinarily expensive, and thus only the wealthy—or those who wish to appear so—can partake in this luxury.

In rhetoric, the claim of an argument or speech is much like the thesis of a paper. Understanding a rhetor’s claim will give insight on what they are arguing, as well as why they are arguing in their chosen style. The Fiji commercial never states specific claims; however, through the use of certain metaphors and vague language, it allows the viewer to formulate their own. As I mentioned earlier, the narrator never specifies what the “it” is that “makes our lives worth living” or “cools our inner being”, but through the use of the visual images and the sound of running water in the background, the viewer assumes that “it” is the water. However, the purpose of this advertisement is not to change a person’s view on the purpose of water; it was made to sell a product. The transition from the image-intensive scenes to the simple display of the Fiji logo serves to contextualize the messages created in the body of the advertisement. The audience isn’t supposed to assume that any water is “paradise”, so the display of the logo allows for the viewer to only connect Fiji water to the commercial. This commercial relies on its ability to stir an emotional response from the audience, but, since the company’s logo is displayed at the end and never verbalized, its intended message would be lost if it was unable to maintain the viewer’s attention.

The Fiji Water advertisement that I have been describing utilizes pathos and style, relies on the company’s ethos, and completely ignores logos. It creates an emotional response through visual and auditory devices that convey both serenity and grandeur, but it fails to provide any evidence that Fiji water is better than any other. Even without any factual information, I conclude that this advertisement is extremely effective, in that every time I hear the song featured in this commercial, I immediately think of Fiji water. For this reason, I believe that Fiji water has successfully established a brand of the highest quality and can rely on its audience to inherently link its name with quality.