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There were a few that stuck out to me this year. One was the Ram commercial that invoked a lot of (questionable? inappropriate?) ethos by quoting MLK, but we’ll save that for another conversation. The one I really want to highlight was Matt Damon and his clean water promise. If you missed it, feel free to refresh here.

Essentially, Matt Damon makes a plug for buying a Stella Artois chalice. As if the concept of a beer chalice isn’t silly enough, Damon says that when you buy the chalice, a portion of the proceeds go to his non-profit called Water.org. Specifically, he says that “If just 1 percent of you watching this buys a chalice, we can give clean water to 1 million people”.

Let’s run the numbers here. The chalice costs $13, and $3.13 of each purchase goes to Water.org. So the question is, what can $3 buy in the developing world? Can it really provide 5 years of clean water for an individual? This seemed a little far-fetched to me.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one curious to run the numbers. NPR lays out the work nicely, and the bottom line is that it takes more like $300 than $3. And the money doesn’t truly go to water, it goes towards the delivery of a water jug or the building of a well.

Numbers aside, I have a few other questions. Like why did Stella Artois pay ~$5 million dollars for 30 seconds of air time? Could they have just donated that money to Water.org directly? What’s Stella’s piece in all of this? For one, they are going to get press and business the ad, possibly more than Water.org is. They are also evoking some sense of corporate social responsibility. But is this really a good match? A beer company promoting clean drinking water?

In my bioethics class, we’ve been talking about these types of partnerships and how problematic they are. Frankly, Stella has no place in promoting global health like this. It pretty much goes against their entire foundation. But the real blame falls on Water.org – by partnering with entities like Stella, they are undermining their credibility and mission as an organization dedicated to improving health through access to water.

This pains me. And it was immediately so apparent to me as the commercial was wrapping up.

To leave you with a final kicker – a quick trip to Water.org’s website reveals that they ALSO partner with PepsiCo. Just like beer, soda giants have no place in water initiatives.

Matt Damon, I think you can do better.

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