How One Do-Gooder Startup Is Using Storytelling To Get People To Care About Its Brand

The elegant Soma water filter is adding an extra benefit: buying one now gives money to clean water in Africa.

Most of the brands that tout social good as one of their selling points–think Warby Parker and Toms Shoes–realize that storytelling is important. Customers want to know, for instance, how their new glasses are helping to also get glasses to people in need; the company’s do-gooder mission is probably why they chose the Warby Parker brand in the first place (that and the low prices).


Soma, a startup that sells what it calls “the world’s most innovative water filter,” wants to take its storytelling to a new, multisensory level–all as part of a partnership with charity:water.

Soma has presold over 2,300 of its products (a combination glass carafe and compostable water filter) via a Kickstarter campaign that raised $147,444. Customers initially bought the product purely because they liked the product–it’s more attractive than today’s most popular filters, and the filter subscription service (you get a new one every two months) is ideal for lazy or forgetful users. Now Soma is tacking on a do-gooder story of its own: a partnership with charity:water that gives money to the nonprofit for well-building every time a water filter is sold.

Soma is kicking off the partnership with a trip to Ethiopia this month, where charity:water will take a diverse crew–including Soma cofounder Mike Del Ponte, Glitch mob producer Justin Boreta, street artist Swoon, and social media expert Amy Jo Martin–to some of the sites where it works in the country. All of the trip’s participants will help record the experience. Boreta, for example, is planning to record sounds from the field to turn into a musical track. Martin will help participants dispatch relevant social media updates in real time. And a videographer will capture footage that will ultimately be turned into vignettes to be released throughout the year.

When the trip ends, Soma and Dwell will host a series of 10 dinners where participants will get to experience the journey secondhand–listening to the music, eating Ethiopian food, looking at art, watching videos, and of course, drinking water from Soma filters.

The charity:water partnership is “a reflection of the product–water without compromise,” says Del Ponte. “We want to hit on every level: user experience, the charitable element, the subscription model, and with the storytelling, we don’t want the traditional video of one person talking. It’s experiential, auditory, visual.” The key to successful storytelling, Del Ponte believes, is understanding how products affect our identities. When you buy a pair of those Warby Parker glasses, you “want to be a brand ambassador; you want to talk about the one-for-one model. I think people want to participate in the brand.”

Soma isn’t taking any more preorders for its water filter, but sales will start up again in August.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.