Bhopal Medical Appeal: B’Eau Pal publicity stunt: don’t go near the water!
Twenty-five years after the world’s worst-ever industrial disaster, the local water’s still unfit to drink. So, B’Eau Pal. And two short film clips become instant YouTube stars.
Above: clockwise from left: B’Eau Pal has few takers in the streets, the Yes Men pose before a very quiet Dow HQ, someone shows he’s brave (or thirsty) and a copycat campaign pops up on another website, inspired by the Yes Men. Below: a site for sore eyes.
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This is a classic, opportunistic publicity stunt brilliantly conceived and executed with a great deal of style, acumen and panache. And if you'll forgive the pun, not a little ‘bottle’ (a commonly used London term for courageous risk-taking). The B’Eau Pal adventure is in a very good cause indeed. This year sees the 25th anniversary of a horrendous crime, the worst-ever man made disaster in peace time, which has killed tens of thousands of innocent inhabitants of the city of Bhopal in India. Twenty-five years on and they still haven’t cleaned up the site! That is worth protesting, fundraisers.
Medium of communication:Online, posters, press advertising.
Type of charity:Public/society benefit, social change.
Target audience:Awareness, social change campaign.
Country of origin:UK.
Colin Toogood (BMA), Mike Bonnano (Yes Men)
Name of exhibitor:Colin Toogood, Bhopal Medical Appeal
Date of first appearance:July, 2009.
To raise awareness among people younger than our usual supporters
I represent the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA), which supports a clinic in Bhopal in India. It is the only place giving free treatment to survivors of both the chemical gas disaster of 1984 and the ongoing toxic contamination of the environment and drinking water around the abandoned disaster site in Bhopal.
The head of our clinic in Bhopal, Sathyu Sarangi, recently visited the UK to receive an award and we wanted to use this occasion to generate publicity and raise awareness, especially of the second, ongoing disaster, in Bhopal – the toxic contamination of the drinking water supply.
We decided that on the day that Sathyu came to London we (under the auspices of the Sambhavna Clinic) would publish an authoritative new report on the water supply in one of the worst affected areas in Bhopal. At the same time, we would also launch, with the help of the Yes Men, a new brand of bottled water. This beautifully designed bottle is called B’eauPal.
The water was launched in London and, after it had been shown to the press and the public, both the bottled water and the Sambhavna water report were taken down to Dow's UK headquarters in Staines, west of London. We had filled one of the bottles with genuine toxic water from Bhopal and our plan was to challenge the Dow executives to drink it.
We didn't expect them to want to drink the water but, and this really took us by surprise, Dow had got wind of there being ‘some kind of protest’ afoot and had simply vacated their HQ for the day! As you can imagine this didn't exactly do our news coverage any harm, ‘activists shut down Dow for a day’ indeed.
Now I’m trying to build a life for our product, beyond this stunt, and I am currently negotiating with a couple of London-based magazines to try to secure advertising space. I want to run what looks like a pretty straight ad, for B'eauPal water, which will look a little like our website.
From our point of view this stunt had two main aims: one to raise general awareness of the toxic water problem in Bhopal and, perhaps more critical for us, to reach a new group of people. Our supporter base tends to be made up of slightly older people and this year, which is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original disaster, we believe that it is crucial for us create a new, younger audience. Hopefully the publicity we have had so far, for B'eauPal, is a good way to start doing this.
We are very grateful for the assistance that came from the Yes Men’s publicist, McAinsh Consulting. Although their role is to publicise the forthcoming Yes Men film, they were very quick to see the publicity value of our stunt to both the BMA and to the film. The Yes Men have a history of Bhopal activism and are very media friendly. We approached them with a view to performing a publicity stunt, some months ago, after a very early pre-screening of their film. We chatted and eventually came up with the B'eauPal idea
We were also very pleased with the offer of pro bono help from Kennedy Monk, a top London design agency, in the design of the bottle. The Yes Men’s blog entry is a good place to view the story of B’eauPal. There is also a B’eauPal website.
Absolutely minimal; pro-bono help from the design agency
Some good coverage in the print media. We had a piece in the London Paper, the front cover of Eastern Eye (the UK's biggest Asian newspaper) and CtrlAltShift (the youth off-shoot of Christian Aid) will be featuring the story.
Also various mentions in articles where we have piggy-backed publicity linked to the Yes Men’s forthcoming film release, including the Guardian and the forthcoming edition of Wired.
But, online this story has really gone down a storm. We were featured on Yahoo news, Worldwide, on the day of the stunt. We’ve been a featured video on MSN and Tiscali Green and many other video sites. The story has now been carried by literally hundreds of websites – news, environmental, water industry, activism and design – and countless blog entries.
The Yes Men's publicists, McAinsh Consulting, are also helping to push out the story and they are able to reach areas that might be difficult for us. Our connection with the stunt and the credibility this gave it, especially with the ‘timely’ publication of the report on toxic water, helped it to be seen as making a serious point. This has made this stunt particularly successful. Also, by combining our resources we have achieved much greater results, we have been able to multiply the value of our mutual publicity efforts rather than just simply adding them together.
It’s a classic opportunistic protest in a good cause