It’s Cleveland vs. Fiji in a war of water and words. Fiji Water, based in Los Angeles and a favorite of Hollywood celebrities, has angered Clevelanders with a new national advertisement that pokes fun at the city that’s tried for decades to overcome a muddied reputation when it comes to h20.
“The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland,” says the full-page ad running in magazines such as Esquire.
After seeing the ad, public utilities director Julius Ciaccia ordered the bottled water tested.
The results: 6.31 micrograms of arsenic per liter in the Fiji bottle, said Cleveland water quality manager Maggie Rodgers. Cleveland tap water as well as bottled brands Aquafina, Dasani and Evian had no measurable arsenic.
“Before you take a cheap shot at somebody, know what you’re talking about,” said Cleveland water commissioner J. Christopher Nielson.
Fiji president Edward Cochran grew up near Cleveland. He said the ad was his idea and his hometown needs to lighten up.
“It is only a joke,” he said. “We had to pick some town.”
Cochran said Cleveland’s tests were not independent and his company’s analysis shows Fiji’s arsenic levels never exceed 2 micrograms per liter.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates municipal water supplies, and the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, allow up to 10 micrograms per liter.
In the ad, Fiji says its water comes from a natural artesian aquifer in the Pacific islands, where it is preserved and protected from external elements.
Bill Stern, chief operating officer of Cleveland-based Stern Advertising, said the Fiji ad refers to an old stereotype about the city, which years ago was known for steel mill fed pollution and a dirty river that once caught fire.
Stern, who developed a “Believe in Cleveland” campaign promoting the city, said he was a Fiji Water fan until the ad.
“I had my own version of the Boston Tea Party,” he said, “pouring it down the sink.”