Real Products, and Hype
“There is the eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it and those who are in the world to make it a better place for everybody to live in.” – George Bernard Shaw
A few months back I entered our, my, product, the Temperfect mug, in a design competition put on by Dezeen, an online magazine that curates and produces articles on a wide variety of design projects from around the world. Dezeen is a great resource for keeping up with what's new and interesting in the design world. Last week I learned that the Temperfect mug had been eliminated from consideration for a prize during the competition's first judging round. No reason is given why, but I was able to review the products that were selected in the first round, in particular two stainless steel water bottles, items that are in the same category as ours. What I found was two products that are 1% inspiration and 99% marketing hype.
The first was the $95 Larq water bottle, which has an LED in the cap to periodically shine UV light into the water in the bottle. The design is based on this bit of science: when microorganisms, for example bacteria, are exposed to high enough doses of UV light, their DNA is damaged and they can no longer reproduce.
In order to sell their product, Larq claims
- that this bottle is self-cleaning,
- that it “eradicates” up to 99.9999% of bacteria in the bottle,
- that you can use it to make safe drinking water when hiking or traveling in places with questionable tap water and
- that it is a good choice for sustainable living.
Let's just think about these claims for a second. Does anyone believe that shining a light on whatever dirt you put in your bottle will make that dirt disappear? It won't. Things, including dirty things, don't disappear. Here's an incontrovertible fact: you’ll be drinking that dirt, along with any bacteria (possibly disabled) and whatever chemicals and heavy metals are in the water you put in there. Also: we all know that shining a light on the inside of a dirty bottle will not clean it.
Larq claims up to 99.9999% effectiveness in disabling bacteria in the bottle, but I haven’t seen any independent tests confirming this. They have a report accessible on their website with the results of tests performed for them by Harrens Lab, but a) Larq supplied the water which was seeded with bacteria by the lab to use for testing (hmmm, they didn't think an analysis lab would have water on hand? that's fishy, isn't it?) b) no "control" test without the UV cap was performed, so we don't know how the test bacteria would have fared in just the Larq-supplied water without UV treatment (double hmmm) and c) tests were only performed with e. coli., one of the easiest bacteria to kill—no test on viruses, for example, which can take 5 times more UV light to disable. I personally wouldn't use this bottle for sanitizing water while hiking or in places with questionable water supplies.
Finally, Larq writes a lot about sustainability in their marketing materials, but the battery in their LED cap is not replaceable. A couple of years down the road, when it's tired out, you'll need to buy an entire new cap ($60) and dispose of the old one, battery, electronics, LEDs, plastic and all. How much sustainability thinking went into the decision to make the battery non-replaceable?
The Larq is a nice looking bottle, and if the looks are worth $95 to you, you should buy it, but if you're concerned about sustainability and want to drink clean water (while saving some money), I'd recommend finding a nice looking vacuum-insulated bottle (and possibly a bottle brush) at a local shop, washing it, and putting clean, bacteria-free water in it.
This isn't meant to be a Larq water bottle review though. I'm here to talk about real products vs. those that exist and succeed through sheer force of marketing hype. The Larq bottle belongs to the latter category. Their marketing materials, website, blog, pictures, videos are all über slick and appealing—and misleading. The "star rating" for the bottle on their website is 4.7; on Google it's 3.9. How did that happen? They don't allow recommendations or reviews on their Facebook page, and they don't have their product on Amazon, so no ratings there. After visiting their website just once my social media feeds filled instantly with their ads, and are still full of them. Their own social media is filled with perfect pictures and picture-perfect influencers promoting the Larq bottle ("it's so sustainable, and not having to wash this self-cleaning bottle has been a game changer!" FYI: you'd actually better wash it). The Larq team has pulled out all marketing stops to sell a product that possibly doesn't offer any benefit beyond what a bottle at 1/10 the price does, and won't be as good for the environment long term. Judging from Larq's success on Kickstarter and the amount they're spending on marketing, their approach is working. They're not the only ones. There are lots of other pretty-product-and-hype brands; for example Byta and Stay Sixty®. The latter was also on Dezeen's long list for a design award. Buy these products for the looks if you like them though.
And then, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, we have, in the BLUE corner, weighing in at an even SIXTEEN FLUID OUNCES, the JOEVEO TEMPERFECT MUG (yaaay! huzzah! other cheering sounds!)
At Joeveo we use what I call "Zero-BS" marketing. We offer a product that is not just good-looking, but also provides significant value beyond that provided by competitors' products. We offer it at the lowest price we can so as many can benefit from it as possible. We make no unsubstantiated claims. Our social media features no influencers and is filled with more than pretty pictures—we show you our behind the scenes so you can learn who we are, where your Temperfect mug comes from and how it is made. And it is made, to a significant extent, with care, by us here in Wake Forest, NC. When you order one it is packed and shipped to you by us rather than by a nameless fulfillment center, and if you need support, that support is provided directly by us. If you want to know what our customers think of our product, you can go to our Facebook page and read the reviews, which are all unfiltered and public. Our business exists because we think our product will make people's lives better, not because we saw an opportunity to make some money. This is a Real product. Honest. Authentic.
So there you have the contenders in this ongoing match of the century between The Hype vs. The Real. Which will prevail? Well, the Hype has the Real on the ropes at the end of this round. Even the expert judges at Dezeen have chosen to include the Hype for consideration in their design competition, and not the Real. If actual product designers can't see through the marketing smoke and mirrors, we at Joeveo are going to have a tough job convincing the average consumer of our product's advantages with our zero-BS approach. Dezeen, you can, and should, do better. Good design is a balance of strong form and function. When you help promote products that are form-only, that rely wholly on hype for their success, you do a disservice to the Art of Design.
I'm the optimistic type though, and I have good hope that consumers will eventually learn to appreciate Joeveo's realness. If you have one of our mugs you can help by leaving a recommendation on our Facebook page, and by letting your circle know about us. We'll continue to be Real, and to do our small part to make the world a better place for everybody to live in.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2019: The Larq Water Bottle, in the red corner, has survived not only the first Dezeen Design Award judging round, but also the second round, and the third round. It has, in fact, been crowned Dezeen's "Product design of the year."