History of Louisville pure tap®

Louisville pure tap® at 15
Some could argue that water produced by Louisville Water Company should celebrate its sesquicentennial rather than a 15-year anniversary – and on some level, they would be right. The company has produced water since 1860. However, the branded water supply we now know as Louisville pure tap® was “born” in the summer of 1996. It was the first, and as far as we know, the only branded public water supply anywhere. And as with all long-lasting brands, Louisville pure tap® was the result of both company need and customer passion.

Why Brand a Water Supply?
Industry peers, government regulators and, most importantly, customers have traditionally cited Louisville Water Company as one of the premier systems in the country. Over the years it has won national as well as local taste tests. In the 1990s, however, waves of negative publicity about deteriorating water quality globally, general attacks on water quality during debates on the reauthorizations of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, and mounting marketing activity by bottled water companies and water purification systems manufacturers began taking a toll on local consumer attitudes about tap water. Ironically, as perceptions were going down, actual water quality was reaching new heights.

As the company responsible for providing the region with a safe water supply and communicating important information about water, Louisville Water Company looked for a way to help combat the myths promulgated by over-zealous marketers, distinguish it from the “bad actors” in other parts of the world, and restore its position as a high-quality provider with its customers.

Why Louisville pure tap®?
The seeds for the campaign were planted when results of a blind taste test of bottled waters ran in The Courier-Journal in May of 1996. Louisville’s chilled tap water scored higher than the bottled brands. The article also schooled readers on a glossary of terms used by bottled water companies. The word “pure” when attached to any product was considered more a term of art than of science and thus fair game for clever application.

Focus group research conducted the month after the article was published showed that people buy bottled waters because of its perceived health benefit, convenience and of course “snob appeal.” When asked specifically about local water quality however, the majority of respondents had high praise for its taste and overall quality. In fact, many respondents disclosed that they reused the brand name bottle by refilling it with local tap water.

"Bottle Your Own Water"
Armed with a great product and solid research, the “Louisville pure tap®” seed found fertile soil and the idea of a branded water supply began to grow. Since customers did appreciate the local water quality, then the focus should be on the only real difference between bottled and tap – the bottle!

The Louisville pure tap® Bottle Your Own campaign centered on the opportunity to overcome the convenience divide between tap and bottled water while addressing both the quality and snob appeal issues. Nearly 43,000 bottles were distributed at local community events during the first full year of the campaign.

By giving away bottles, filled and empty, at community festivals and events, Louisville Water Company was able to remind customers of what they already knew --

  • Tap water is the healthy beverage alternative, 
  • Tap water is the low-cost beverage alternative (66 8-ounce cups of Louisville pure tap® cost one penny), 
  • Louisville Water Company innovates to meet the changing needs of its customers,
  • and most important, that Louisville has wonderful water!
Louisville pure tap® -- Keeping up with the times and growing demand
Long a partner with local schools promoting science, environmental awareness and healthy choices, Louisville Water Company expanded the brand in 1999 to include a mascot – Tapper. Tapper not only made appearances at civic events, he donned a mortarboard and became an online tutor for local schoolchildren. Louisville Water Company created Tapper’s FunZone with the help of curriculum specialists from Jefferson County Public Schools. The FunZone was a place where science experiments and problems were presented in age-appropriate language with compelling visuals. It quickly became a favorite for teachers looking for ways to add interactive learning to their classrooms and grew into an award-winning curriculum the following year.

With an expanded presence in the schools and at community events, the demand for Louisville pure tap® grew by leaps and bounds. In fact, the original concept of encouraging customers to “bottle your own” water quickly changed based on community demand for convenient bottled water at numerous community runs, walks, fairs and gatherings.

The demand was so great that in 2001 Louisville Water Company opened its own bottling line at the Crescent Hill Plant and introduced 8-ounce bottles of Louisville pure tap®. These smaller bottles soon become an integral part of outdoor events throughout the Metro area. The bottling line also made it possible for Louisville pure tap® to be delivered outside the service area. In 2005 10,000 bottles of Louisville pure tap® were sent to rescue teams helping Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast.

Louisville pure tap®’s reputation, and the obvious health benefits of drinking lots of water each day, led to many wonderful partnerships. Key among them is Smile Kentucky!, an initiative created by Louisville Water Company, the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Louisville Dental Society and Colgate-Palmolive. Smile Kentucky! provides dental education and free dental care to children at elementary schools in Louisville Metro and surrounding counties.

The partnership has provided more than $1 million in free dentistry since its inception.  The American Dental Association calls the program a “model for community service.”

By 2007 more than one million bottles of Louisville pure tap® had been provided to some 800 community organizations -- and the demand wasn’t slowing down. In fact, the brand experienced another growth spurt in 2008 when the American Water Works Association chose pure tap® as “Best Tasting Tap Water in America.”

Returning to its roots
By just about any measure, the Louisville pure tap® brand has been a success. It is in high demand, and customer satisfaction with Louisville water is strong. But a funny thing happened along the way. Recent customer research showed that the water inside the bottle was sometimes seen as a separate product from the water coming from every faucet and fountain in town. Even some new employees of Louisville Water Company thought Louisville pure tap® was a separate product. The medium for the message was overshadowing the product inside.

The bottle had become an issue in another way as well. As a company committed to environmental stewardship, Louisville Water Company decided that the existing disposable plastic bottle, although convenient, needed to be retired.

As Louisville pure tap® turns 15, the Louisville pure tap® logo has gotten a fresh look, and Louisville Water Company is reviving the primary message that customers can “bottle your own” Louisville pure tap® using any cup, glass, bottle, or canteen.

For customers wanting a convenient way to carry Louisville pure tap®, Louisville Water Company has introduced new, sturdier, reusable 22-ounce plastic bottles and even new steel bottles with the Louisville pure tap® brand. Visitors and participants in civic and community events now find compostable Louisville pure tap® cups instead of plastic bottles as part of the new “Louisville pure tap® to GO"  fill stations.  These stations developed by Louisville Water Company engineers include a cooler that connects to any water outlet at a venue and provides a continuous flow of chilled water.

What hasn’t changed over the last 15 years is the fact that Louisville pure tap® still contains no calories and no fat, and drinking 8 glasses a day is recommended for good health. Enjoy Louisville pure tap®!