When Mattias Ronge approached UNICEF with the idea of making a “sweat machine,” they were dumbfounded. After all, recycling perspiration–even if it comes out pure enough to drink–is disgusting. And, generally, PR campaigns aim to entice, rather than get people to retch.
“It was the oddest meeting I’ve ever had with a client,” says Ronge, who heads a Swedish PR firm called Deportivo. “There were four or five seconds when I thought they would call up the men in white and carry me away.”
But UNICEF doesn’t think Ronge is insane now. Since Deportivo created the device, dozens of media outlets have gotten in touch, and the agency’s message about water scarcity is spreading far and wide. The sweat machine–a physical, gurgling contraption–has been more effective than any conventional campaign could be.
Deportivo developed the machine for the Gothia Cup, a youth soccer tournament staged in Gothenburg. The idea was to show that, just as soccer can be played anywhere (as the saying goes), everyone needs clean water. Unicef says 768 million people lack a fresh supply at the moment.
Once the UNICEF people got over their initial shock and agreed to the project, Ronge contacted an old school friend, Andreas Hammar, who he knew was good at inventing things. Hammar constructed the device from washing machine parts, a coffee percolator, and a new type of water filter built by another friend.
Kids can boost sweat production by using stationary bikes, then place their soiled clothes inside the machine. Ronge says many are intrigued. “They find it disgusting, but that’s sort of what’s appealing about it. They stand there with their team-mates, and egg each other on to drink the sweat.”
About 1,000 people have tried the water so far, and Ronge says it tastes much like that from the tap. But the machine really is a stunt–not a true solution to the problem. “A lot of journalists started asking when we would be shipping it to people in need. They actually think we’ve developed a product that will clean water, when what we have done is develop a PR device to lift up the issue, and get it discussed. And it is being discussed–all over Sweden.”
Deportivo might take the device on a publicity tour after the tournament, but will definitely put it to rest after that. A lot of fun for a while, the message-machine will have achieved its purpose.