The Real Reason You Can't Buy Dasani Water In The UK

Dasani water, which is owned by the Coca-Cola company, is currently the world's second-best-selling brand of bottled water — according to Marketing91, it's only outsold by Aquafina. This is really quite a feat when you consider that Dasani's sales figures do not include any of the nearly 68 million residents of the United Kingdom (via Worldometer).

Dasani, which launched in 1999, was introduced into the British market to great fanfare in 2004 — fanfare from the Coca-Cola company, that is, who spent millions of pounds promoting their product. The British press and consumers weren't impressed, however. In fact, after some disturbing information about the product became public, the BBC revealed that Dasani water had to be recalled after just a few weeks on the market. 

The resulting publicity was so bad that the product was never reintroduced in Great Britain and goes down in history as one of the usually marketing-savvy Coca-Cola company's biggest and most embarrassing failures.

What is in Dasani water?

Dasani, although Coca-Cola doesn't exactly trumpet this fact, is not naturally-sourced. In fact, it is actually plain old tap water that is "purified," bottled, and marked up an insane amount — according to The Independent, half a liter of tap water in 2004 cost about 3 pence, while a half-liter bottle of that same water labeled as Dasani cost 95 pence. That's a price increase of 3,166 percent, in case you were wondering.

The tabloid papers and even the National Consumer Council were quick to remark upon the fact that the emperor had no clothes. They compared the marketing of Dasani water to an episode of the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses in which the main characters, in a get-rich-quick scheme, attempt to sell bottled tap water from their home in Peckham and sell it as "Peckham Springs" water. While the British version of Dasani didn't come straight out of Peckham taps, its not-so-glamorous origin was in a factory in Sidcup.

Dasani's off-color advertising slogan

If the fact that Dasani's humble origins so closely resembled a sitcom episode wasn't bad enough, the Coca-Cola company made a truly snicker-worthy error with the slogan it chose to advertise Dasani. According to the ads, Dasani was said to be "full of spunk" or even "bottled spunk," and the Coca-Cola company wanted to remind potential consumers that you "can't live without spunk." The problem? While company execs were probably thinking of spunk in the sense that we use it in the U.S., to mean spirit or courage, in the UK it has a different meaning entirely. It is, in fact, a well-known slang term for semen.

What made this ad campaign even worse is something shared by the website Today I Found Out — many of the original advertising images featured models splashing this "spunk" all over their faces. Ads also trumpeted the fact that this spunky beverage was "vitally refreshing and abundantly available" and something you could "enjoy... at home, at the gym, at work and in between". Uh, yeah, sounds... refreshing. Or something.

Dasani's water purification process goes terribly wrong

As the Coca-Cola company was quick to point out and adamant in repeating, Dasani water didn't exactly come straight out of the tap — because it had to undergo what they tried to make sound like a complicated purification process. Unfortunately, they made another misstep in comparing it to "a technique perfected by NASA to purify fluids on spacecraft," since those fluids NASA was purifying included another bodily secretion not known for its drinkability — urine. What's more, this fancy filtration system Coca-Cola was touting was basically nothing more complicated than what is provided by some home water filters.

The real trouble with their filtration, however, was that it introduced the potentially carcinogenic compound bromate into the water. When a batch of Dasani was tested, it was found to contain between 10 and 22 parts per billion of bromate, which exceeded the UK limit for bottled and tap water of 10 ppb. After this news broke, half a million bottles of Dasani had to be recalled. As marketing expert Allyson Stewart-Allen told the BBC, after that ill-timed recall, it proved "next to impossible for Coke to relaunch Dasani in the UK."

UK still troubled waters for the Coca-Cola company

Not only did Dasani never return to UK shores, but the product also had to cancel product launches in certain other areas of Europe. The £7 million marketing campaign was all for naught, and, what's more, the Coca-Cola company lost out on whatever Dasani's market share of the UK's £2.5 billion per year bottled water sales might have been. Potentially billions of dollars were lost because of a few bad weeks back in early 2004.

Still, that's not to say that the Coca-Cola company has entirely abandoned the idea of selling bottled water in the UK, it's just that they've had to be a bit smarter about it. In fact, one Coca-Cola-owned water product that's selling quite well there is Glaceau Smartwater, which comes from a spring instead of a tap. What's more, it doesn't contain any cancer-causing chemicals, which is always a plus.

But the UK is still proving somewhat difficult territory for Coca-Cola owned waters — more recently, the company had to abandon plans to launch their new AHA sparkling water there, due to its name being the catchphrase of TV character Alan Partridge (basically a British version of Ron Burgundy). As a retail insider told The Sun, "Brits would likely break the internet tweeting Alan Partridge images at the brand," and a Coca-Cola spokesperson confirmed, "There are currently no plans to launch AHA in the UK."