Starbucks Dips Toe in Web Waters for World Water Day

Today is World Water Day, and Starbucks’ bottled water brand Ethos has run an integrated campaign to raise awareness of the UN-designated annual event. The coffee purveyor, often referred to as a good corporate citizen, has created a Web site and placed ads on NYTimes.com to promote its WWD 2006 efforts. The site’s search visibility, however, is lacking.

Starbucks held walks today in 11 U.S. cities including Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. to help raise consciousness about the lack of accessibility to potable water across the globe. The idea is to have people trek two or three miles in solidarity with the people who have to do the same each day to get water. The effort could also help Starbucks boost its brand image with consumers concerned about the issue.

According to Ethos Water founder Jonathan Greenblatt, run-of-site ads promoting the walks ran on NYTimes.com over the past week, reinforcing a series of full-page print ads placed in the print edition. The Web ads linked to The WorldWaterDay2006.com site. Launched March 1, the site features educational information and allows visitors to send customized e-cards to alert friends to the issue, as well as sign up to participate in a walk. Users could also grab code to run display ads on their own sites.

The primary mission of the campaign, said Greeblatt, is to get the word out about the world’s water crisis. “It’s just sharing the information, that’s a big part of it,” he added.

People who could not (or chose not to) walk in the physical sense could do so virtually by registering their names on the site, which were to be carried in symbolic vessels by people participating in the actual walks. According to Greenblatt, about 2,000 people participated in today’s walks, and about 2,000 signed up on the site to add their names as virtual walkers.

Starbucks sent emails to holders of its quick payment cards, as well as Ethos.com registrants, to promote the project, while nonprofit partners of the campaign alerted their registrants to the events via email newsletters. Nonprofit partners include Water for People, UNICEF and WaterAid.

One area in which the site hasn’t been successful is search. Although numerous links to other WWD-related Web sites appear in searches on MSN, Yahoo and Google, users will be hard-pressed to find the Starbucks-affiliated site in their search results. In searches on Yahoo and MSN for “world water day” and “water day,” no links to the site were found in organic or paid results. One link to the site was displayed midway down the second page of results when searching Google for “water day,” and none appeared in the initial three Google results pages when searching for “world water day.” Paid and organic listings linking to a host of other groups promoting WWD, however, flood Google, MSN and Yahoo results pages.

Perhaps providing more impact, Starbucks has placed signage in its thousands of U.S. retail outlets to promote the event. Starbucks contributes $0.05 to the Ethos Water Fund for each bottle of Ethos water sold in its U.S. stores; the money goes towards supporting nonprofits that aim to end world water problems. Starbucks acquired Ethos last year.

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