Last spring the jaws of motorists from South Carolina to Wisconsin dropped as they spotted startling new billboards cropping up along their highways. The signs proclaimed the arrival of a new product called “Outhouse Springs Water” and featured the slogan, “Truly Tasteless Water.” The text on the billboards didn’t exactly work up one’s thirst — for instance, “America’s first recycled water,” and “It’s #1, not #2.” Surely this couldn’t be for real, could it? Well, no — and yes, sort of. And it’s all led to a unique way to help save Morris Island Lighthouse, a lighthouse truly in need.
It started in 2002 when Adams Outdoor Advertising launched an effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of outdoor advertising. John Kane, General Sales Manager for Adams Outdoor Advertising, said, “The original goal was to draw attention to billboards and see if a fictitious product could create a measurable level of awareness using only outdoor media.” They joined forces with South Carolina advertising agency Cognetix to create a campaign, and soon Outhouse Springs Water was born.
Jeff Taylor, vice president of Cognetix and one of the masterminds behind Outhouse Springs, says the ad campaign was largely a play on the word taste, or lack thereof “We decided to play around with the word, at the same time mocking the fact that all water is recycled - there is no such thing as newly-created water.”
The billboards were first placed around Charleston, SC, and a survey after four weeks showed that 70% of respondents were already familiar with Outhouse Springs. More billboards were subsequently installed in North Carolina, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
The billboards generated widespread buzz. Discussion cropped up on TV and radio and in newspapers. Even radio veteran Paul Harvey mentioned it on his broadcast. Outhouse Springs was the subject of much speculation on internet bulletin boards and chatrooms. Some thought the signs were hilarious while a few were disgusted, but everyone was taking notice. In fact, people started asking in stores if the product was available — which of course it wasn’t.
Executives of Adams Outdoor Advertising then approached grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly with the idea of selling Outhouse Springs Water (actually Appalachian Springs Water in disguise) in their stores. They also came up with the idea of donating 50 cents of every six-pack sold to Save the Light, the nonprofit group working to save Charleston’s Morris Island Lighthouse.
J. T. “Buzzy” Newton, president of
Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company, says that the idea of selling the water “was not an easy decision at first. However, after further thought, we felt that it was a great opportunity to help a great cause that is very close to many Charlestonians.” Outhouse Springs Water hit Piggly Wiggly shelves in the Charleston area in July. Rita G. Postell, manager of community and employee relations for the company, adds, “With anything that helps the community where we operate, we’re usually very involved. We’re all very proud of this area we live in and its history, and the lighthouse is very important to the businesses and the community as part of our heritage.” Sales have been so strong that Piggly Wiggly decided to sell the water past the original trial period.
J. Murray Compton of Appalachian Springs says his company never dreamed the Outhouse Springs phenomenon would go as far as it has. “Sales to date are approaching two tractor-trailer loads,” he says. “I worked for Coca-Cola for twenty years but have never witnessed anything like this before.” 11,500 six-packs have been delivered to Piggly Wiggly’s warehouse to date. For anyone turned off by some of the advertising, Compton points out, “Don’t forget that the product itself is real mountain spring water, which many people think tastes better than many of the processed municipal products.”
Save The Light, Inc. was organized in the late 1990s to work for the preservation of the 1876 lighthouse, one of Charleston’s best-known landmarks. Many years of beach erosion have left the 161-foot tower standing in the open ocean, landing it on the Lighthouse Digest Doomsday List. The foundation has deteriorated and the tower could fall if steps to stabilize it are not taken soon, and a $5-6 million preservation plan has been developed. The plan calls for the construction of a steel cofferdam around the lighthouse foundation, with concrete added between the foundation and the cofferdam.
Much of the funding has been provided by the federal and state government, but Save the Light needs to raise additional funds in a hurry to allow the stabilization to begin in the summer of 2004. Once the lighthouse is saved from collapse, restoration of the tower can begin.
Dr. Richard L. Beck , vice-chairman of Save the Light, Inc., comments on the fundraising through sales of Outhouse Springs Water, “While the total amount of funds we will receive will not be huge, the publicity generated by Piggly Wiggly and Adams Advertising’s campaign has been priceless. It was a great shot in the arm to the momentum that we must generate to get our funding goals met. Visibility is so important in a campaign like ours. We are grateful for their willingness to help.”
Outhouse Springs Water continues to be sold at Piggly Wiggly stores in the Charleston area, and is now available in their stores in the Florence, SC area as well. By the time you read this, it may be available in other retail outlets as well. And you can even buy it online through eBay. When restaurant owner Pat Lohrenz posted the first bottle on the auction site, it sold in ten minutes.
For more information, please visit our website: www.LighthouseDepot.com which includes an extensive lighthouse database. Type “Morris Island” in the search box and you will see a listing of stories, items and photographs for you to enjoy. You can also access the link to the Save the Light Inc. website from our Morris Island Lighthouse page in our database. It’s all just a click away!
This story appeared in the
November 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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