Tap Water Involvement: People don’t care much about water

Access to clean tap water is considered a human right as without it life would be impossible. But although water falls free from the sky, getting the water you need is not for free. In countries without reticulated water, people sometimes spend hours each day obtaining their water. In more developed countries obtaining water has been outsourced and people pay water utility companies to deliver clean water right at their doorstep. Given the importance of water for sustaining life you might think that most people care very much about tap water.

Consumer Involvement

In marketing, consumer involvement is the construct used to measure how much consumers care about a product or service.1 It is measured by asking people to tick a box on a scale between two extremes.

Personal Involvement Inventory (Zaichowsky 1994).
Personal Involvement Inventory (Zaichowsky 1994).

In June last year I created an online survey to measure the Personal Involvement Inventory (PII) for tap water and invited people to complete it via Twitter. Thanks to@DrinkTapDotOrg, @Help4SmallWater, @MagicTony and @cfishman for the help in getting respondents.

Tap Water Involvement

In total 77 responses were received (40% female, 60% male). Respondents were also asked whether they have a garden and whether they are professionally involved in tap water. The lowest possible PII score is 10 and the highest 50. The average score of this survey was 40.6, which is quite high—more than previously reported for mouthwash, but less then the involvement people have with cars.2 Interestingly, there were no significant differences based on gender, having a garden or being a water professional—all groups valued water equally.

The Personal Involvement Inventory has two dimensions: it measures a cognitive (rational) and an affective (emotional) involvement. The average cognitive involvement with tap water was 23.6—almost the maximum score of 25. This is not surprising given the importance of water. Affective involvement with water was much lower at 17.2. The difference between the two is statistically significant: t(76)=13.42, p < 10-6. However, also in the sub-factors there is no significant difference between genders, gardening or profession.

Twitter is, however, not a representative sample and most tweets seem to originate from the younger generations. The research can also not be considered a representative sample as the invitation to complete the survey was re-tweeted mainly by water related accounts. It can be assumed the people that follow these accounts have a higher level of involvement than regular tap water users. There is, however, no reason to assume that the relative difference between cognitive and affective involvement will be different in other population segments.


What we can tentatively conclude from these results is that our emotional relationship with water is much lower than our rational understanding of its importance.

These results can have implications for how tap water is marketed by water utilities. Involvement is an important indicator that is related to willingness to pay. The more we are involved with a product or service, the more we are willing to pay.3 Smart marketers thus use strategies to increase the level of involvement.

The reasons for the low level of involvement have to be sought in the marketing myopia of tap water service providers. Some have even argued that tap water managers are lazy marketers.To increase the level of involvement the message from water utilities needs to become more emotive, following the example of bottled water companies.


  1. Zaichkowsky, J. L. (1994). The personal involvement inventory: Reduction, revision, and application to advertising. Journal of Advertising, 23(4), 59.
  2. Zaichkowsky, J. L. (1985). Measuring the involvement construct. Journal of Consumer Research, 12(3), 341–352.
  3. Cohen, M. (2000). Consumer involvement–driving up the cost. Consumer Policy Review, 10(4), 122–125

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