It takes a minute to get your head around just what Stephen Fox is selling, or, to be more precise, not selling.

Stephen is the marketing director for a national brand called Drink Water. It’s a for-profit business with the stated purpose of encouraging people to — wait for it — drink water. All of which is simple and straightforward enough. But here’s the thing: Drink Water doesn’t sell water.

Never has. Never will.

Selling water, Fox is quick to point out, would dilute the brand and confuse the message.

“Advocacy is way more compelling if you can literally say, ‘I have zero to gain if you drink water. It’s for your gain. I get nothing if you find my message compelling.’”

Wait. What?

* * *

This only begins to make sense when Stephen backs up to the beginning and tells Drink Water’s origin story.

In 2011, two up and coming professional snowboarders named Bryan Fox (Stephen’s brother) and Austin Smith were getting started in the business.

An energy drink you might have heard of by the name of Red Bull approached Smith. If he’d endorse their product, they’d pay him a bunch of money.

But Smith was an introspective sort. He wondered if encouraging people, kids especially, to drink extensive amounts of sugar and caffeine was sending the right message. Wasn’t Red Bull exactly what they shouldn’t be drinking? And soft drinks too, for that matter.

What they really ought to be drinking is water; aka the original energy drink.

Smith found a kindred spirit in his fellow boarder and close friend Bryan Fox, who felt exactly the same as he did.

The two of them put their heads together and dreamed up the idea of using their influence to promote H2O.

Instead of plastering Red Bull patches on their helmets and boards, they plastered patches of their own design that said Drink Water.

 With that, they were off and, well, maybe not running, but definitely moving.

Stephen Fox, co-founder of Drink Water, a website that encourages kids to drink water, talks about how the company began and ideas behind what they do in Park City on Monday, March 27, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

They didn’t get a sponsorship deal from Mother Nature, per se, but they found there were a lot of fellow water lovers out there. They got enough support and encouragement from fans and followers that they incorporated their philosophy into a brand, set up a website (wedrinkwater.com), and started producing T-shirts, hoodies, water bottles and stickers to sell to people who also wanted to spread the word.

This is where Stephen Fox comes in. Stephen is Bryan’s older brother by two years. He snowboards too, but not for a living. He’s a marketer and social media strategist by profession. When he learned what his brother and Smith were up to, he agreed to take care of the marketing end of the operation.

“They’re the pro snowboarders, I’m the pro keyboarder,” he says.

Against pretty impressive odds, the Drink Water brand has stayed afloat for more than a decade now, content with making enough through its merch sales to pay taxes and send 10% of its profits to water.org, the charity founded by Matt Damon and Gary White with the stated goal to make safe water available to everyone on the planet.

When they created Drink Water, Bryan and Austin were the pitchmen, and Stephen, the chief fulfillment officer. In the beginning, when he was living in Portland, he stored the brand’s merchandise in his garage and shipped out the T-shirts, hoodies, water bottles and stickers as the orders came in.

A few years ago, when he moved to Utah, the garage at his home in the Park City area became Drink Water’s distribution headquarters.

Stephen and his wife Hanna spend the bulk of their time running Traverse Agency, their full-time marketing business, but every week Stephen finds enough time to make sure Drink Water’s message gets its due.

Drink Water’s advertising budget is the same as when they began — zero. Same with their endorsement budget. But the purity of the cause continues to attract no shortage of people who are happy to advertise, endorse and promote the brand for free. Like, for example, Anthony Keidis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who wore a Drink Water ball cap throughout one of the band’s tours.

“The cause remains valid,” says Stephen — and the competition remains fierce.

The energy drink and soft drink companies, he notes, “have not laid off the gas pedal” in getting out their message to the country’s young people.

Drink Water will continue to wage battle with nothing but a motto and the truth.

“It’s not about selling water. We’re committed to never sell water. We prefer it from the tap,” their mission statement proclaims on their website.

“Our goal is to spread this message; the simple idea that has become a movement of people questioning what’s being sold to them. Join us in saying something different, something simple, something as obvious as Drink Water.”