Can a £30 widget really get you drinking more water?

Francesca Davis

Francesca Davis on Nov 9, 2019

I stumbled across a review in the Telegraph the other day for the ‘Ulla Smart Hydration Reminder’.

Ulla is a little plastic capsule attached to a band, which slips onto your water bottle. It blinks every 40 minutes if you aren’t drinking enough (the ‘optimal hydration interval’, apparently) and the only way to stop this blinking is to drink, because it senses you tipping the bottle. Now, I work in behaviour change, so it was time to see if it could change my behaviour.

Being a keen runner but a lousy hydrator I leapt at the prospect of drinking  ‘3x more water’ and I hastily SPLASHED out an eye watering £30.

What happened?

At my desk, 1.0:

My Ulla arrived and immediately began her silent glows of hydration encouragement. I named her Linda, after my bold, energetic drama teacher.

‘Hellooo, I’m here’, she’d blink every 40 minutes.

‘Aw yes, hi Linda, thanks for the reminder!’

This was the start of something beautiful, I thought.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon phase soon came to an end and I realised (much in the same way as I did at school) how infuriating she truly was.

At my desk, 2.0:


‘I know, just a sec Linda’



That was our first argument.

Away from my desk Linda:

Insultingly, Linda’s proximity sensor didn’t allow her to distinguish between my colleague and me. When I ventured out for a walk or to a meeting, I would return to a rather flustered and frustrated Emily – ‘WHY IS IT FLASHING AT ME? WHAT DOES IT WANT FROM ME?’

Out and about Linda:

It wasn’t long before she started embarrassing me with her constant public flashing: on the tube, at the pub. So inappropriate.

I left her at home for the rest of the week.


So, how did Ulla convince me, and 280,00 others, to spend £30 on this little gadget? Last month we wrote a piece about EAST so I’ll pick out a few behaviour change methods that Ulla used:

  1. EASY – Linda was small and simple; no complicated app to download and sync with your phone and no need to charge. Easy peasy.
  2. ATTRACTIVE – Linda is novel and exciting and we know how much people love quirky things.
  3. SOCIAL – I didn’t think I’d care that ‘Stewart ordered 4 Ullas from Canada 1 hour ago’ but apparently I did. Social proof at it’s finest, well done Ulla.

Ulla wants to create a healthier hydration habit in people who are at the preparation stage of the Transtheoretical Model (1). Those that KNOW they don’t drink enough water and are READY to make a change i.e. me.

Did Linda help me?

In short no.

It seems that I was Ulla’s perfect target so why wasn’t it a success? Well, I am sceptical and have limited patience so perhaps I didn’t give Linda enough of a chance. For me, once the novelty wore off I associated her constant ‘glowing’ more with bullying than encouragement. Creating and maintaining a habit is difficult, and unfortunately Ulla wasn’t able to help me with this.

The final chapter

Sadly Linda and I were unable to make things work. The constant nagging, embarrassment and lack of consideration for others just got too much. Maybe I’ll put her on ebay, but for now she’s in the bin, just like my dramatic ambitions.

1) Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992