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H2NO refers to an upselling campaign by Coca-Cola to dissuade consumers from ordering tap water drinks at restaurants, and to instead order more profitable soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages, or bottled water. The campaign's title, H2NO, reflects the program's purpose, which is to have customers say No to H2O, the chemical formula for water. The program taught waiters how to use "suggestive selling techniques" to offer a variety of alternative beverages when diners asked for water.[1]

In July 2001, a link to a story about the program's success at Olive Garden was posted to Cockeyed.com. The link was reposted around the internet, until the story was taken down by Coca-Cola on August 2, 2001, for fears it might be misinterpreted. On August 20, 2001, the story was covered by The New York Times,[2] and subsequently by a number of news providers.

The campaign ran only in the United States.[3]

Discovery and Coca-Cola response[edit]

The H2NO campaign had been conducted through an Internet memo to distributors and restaurants.[4] In July 2001, Rob Cockerham, a graphic designer in Sacramento, came across the Olive Garden success story following an online search, and posted a link to the story on his website, Cockeyed.com.[5][6] In an interview with The New York Times, Cockerham noted how "I had to assure more than one person that this was not a prank, and that it was a real article from Coca-Cola."[5]

On August 2, 2001, about a week after the success story link was posted to Cockeyed.com, the Coca-Cola portal was closed.[7] Polly Howes, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, stated that the story might be misinterpreted by "folks who aren't in a sales-related business" and that the site was due to be dismantled.[5][6]

Following the New York Times article, the story was covered by major news providers, including Daily Mail,[1] Sunday Herald Sun,[8] Evening Standard[3] and was featured on The Glass House.[9]

Olive Garden success story[edit]

External image
H2NO campaign screenshots, Imgur

In a success story on Coca-Cola's online public relations portal, entitled "The Olive Targets Tap Water & WINS", Coca-Cola described the purpose, implementation, and success in reducing "tap water incidence".

Coca-Cola stated that customers chose tap water out of habit, and that selling alternative beverages would increase guest satisfaction:

Water. It's necessary to sustain life, but to many Casual Dining restaurant chains it contributes to a dull dining experience for the customer. Many customers choose tap water not because they enjoy it, but because it is what they always have drunk in the past. In response, some restaurant chains are implementing programs to help train crews to sell alternative choices to tap water, like soft drinks and non-carbonated beverages, with the goal of increasing overall guest satisfaction.[10]

Olive Garden's stated goal was "to influence customers to abandon their default choice of tap water and experience other beverage choices to improve their dining experience".[11]

According to reports in the US, the first shots in the war against water were fired in Olive Garden restaurants.

—"Coke says no to H2O", Sunday Herald Sun (2001)[8]

The Olive Garden suffered from a "high water incidence rate" and "wanted their restaurant crews to emphasize the broad array of alternative beverage selections available" so as "to influence customers to abandon their default choice of tap water and experience other beverage choices to improve their dining experience."[10] In response, the Coca-Cola USA-Fountain offered the tap water reduction program H2NO.[10] The H2NO program featured "beverage suggestive selling techniques (a technique used when a server suggests a profitable beverage in place of water to the customer during the ordering process)."[11] Alternative beverages including soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages and alcohol would be offered which would lead to higher "overall check averages" and greater profits.[11] To further improve the effectiveness of the program, the "Olive Garden developed an employee incentive contest linked to H2NO with CCUSA-Fountain called 'Just Say No to H2O.'"[11]

The success story noted how "because of its own successful campaign against water, The Olive Garden has recently sent a powerful message to the entire restaurant industry - less water and more beverage choices mean happier customers"[10] stating how:

When the contest was completed, almost all participating restaurants realized significant increases in beverage sales and reduced levels of tap water incidence - a strong indication that Olive Garden restaurants succeeded in enhancing the customer's dining experience. And perhaps most importantly, Olive Garden expects to see this trend continue as the skills learned become part of the crew's everyday interaction with restaurant customers.[11]


In this age of branding, even plain old milk needs a big ad campaign and celebrity endorsements. But another popular beverage, tap water, has no such support -- a tactical misstep that has left it vulnerable to aggressive competitors like the Coca-Cola Company.

—"'Just Say No to H20' (Unless It's Coke's Own Brew)", The New York Times (2001)[6]

The program and Olive Garden success story were widely ridiculed.[12][13]

On August 22, 2001, Peter Gleick, the director of the Pacific Institute, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times, criticizing the campaign, noting how "both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola use perfectly potable tap water as the source of their bottled waters, Aquafina and Dasani. I guess tap water is O.K., if we can be made to pay for it."[14]

In a report by Corporate Accountability International, Tapping Congress to Get Off the Bottle, the report criticized the campaign as part of how "bottlers have employed a range of marketing tactics that have overtly disparaged the tap."[15] The Olive Garden success story and the H2NO program have been cited in literature as examples of the bottled water industry's aggressive advertising campaigns which views tap water as an impediment to increased profits.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Willey, Jo (September 5, 2001). "Forget Tap Water, Serve Coke, Restaurants Told". Daily Mail. – via Questia Online Library (subscription required)
  2. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/02/weekinreview/word-for-word-deep-water-just-say-no-to-h20-unless-it-s-coke-s-own-brew.html
  3. ^ a b Rowan, David (September 4, 2001). "Coke's war on water; Drinks giant trains waiters to boost sales in 'H2No' campaign". Evening Standard. p. 21. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2012. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Water, please". Bangor Daily News (ME). August 31, 2001. p. 12.
  5. ^ a b c David F. Gallagher (August 20, 2001). "Having Customers Say No to Tap Water". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c David F. Gallagher (September 2, 2001). "'Just Say No to H20' (Unless It's Coke's Own Brew)". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Coca-Cola success stories". Stay Free!. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Coke says no to H2O". Sunday Herald Sun. Melbourne, Australia. September 9, 2001. p. 25.
  9. ^ "Richard Glover and Sarah Kendall". The Glass House. Season 1. Episode 8.
  10. ^ a b c d "The Olive Garden Targets Tap Water & WINS". Coca-Cola. p. 1. Archived from the original on August 1, 2001. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  11. ^ a b c d e "The Olive Garden Targets Tap Water & WINS". Coca-Cola. p. 2. Archived from the original on August 1, 2001. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Replacing water with Coke?". The Journal Record. August 21, 2001. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
  13. ^ "The Olive Garden just says no to H2O!". MetaFilter.
  14. ^ Gleick, Peter (August 22, 2001). "Tap Water, in a Bottle". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  15. ^ a b "Tapping Congress to Get Off the Bottle: Renewing our public water systems begins by turning off the spigot to bottled water" (PDF). Think Outside the Bottle. Corporate Accountability International. February 2011. p. 5.
  16. ^ McLaren, edited by Carrie; Torchinsky, Jason (2009). "Coca-Cola and the Case of the Disappearing Water Glass". Ad nauseam : a survivor's guide to American consumer culture (1st ed.). New York: Faber and Faber. pp. 206–207. ISBN 9780865479876.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Wolff, Kimberley De (September 2007). H₂O to go marketing and materiality in the normalization of bottled water (PDF). Master's Thesis. Ottawa: Queen's University. pp. 81–84. ISBN 9780494372746.
  18. ^ Miller, Mark (May 2006). "Bottled Water: Why Is It so Big? Causes for the Rapid Growth of Bottled Water Industries" (PDF). Honors Thesis. Texas State University. pp. 17–18. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  19. ^ Gerstein, Hilary (April 18, 2012). "Nor Any Drop to Drink: A Systems Approach to Water in America". Momentum. 1. 1. Archived from the original on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  20. ^ Gottlieb, Robert; Joshi, Anupama (31 October 2010). Food Justice. MIT Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-262-07291-5. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  21. ^ Schor, Juliet (20 January 2003). Sustainable Planet: Roadmaps for the Twenty-first Century. Beacon Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8070-0455-5. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  22. ^ John Trimbur (10 August 2004). The call to write. Pearson Longman. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-321-20305-2. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  23. ^ Clarke, Tony; Alternatives, Canadian Centre for Policy (30 August 2007). Inside the Bottle: An Exposé of the Bottled Water Industry. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-88627-536-5. Retrieved 29 August 2012.