Last year while looking to upgrade my home stereo from a Michael J. Fox-era boom box, I made the mistake of stopping into a Bose store. There I rudely discovered that Bose does not sell home stereos. No, they sell lifestyles. Problem was that I was already quite happy with my pre-owned lifestyle; I just wanted a stereo.
Ridiculous, personal-identity-defining branding experiences like that, however, are no longer the exclusive domain of luxury cars and expensive home theaters — it’s now eating its way through the consumer food chain in a big way. This past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine ran a story on how even an innocuous commodity like soap must now “define who you are as a consumer”.
Apparently coffee is not immune either. For example, today’s Boston Globe announced Green Mountain Coffee’s introduction of their new “PBS blend”: Green Mountain Coffee brews new “PBS Blend” – Business Ticker – The Boston Globe. Go to the Green Mountain Web site, and we are told, “Be more aware, inspired, original. Be more PBS®.” Green Mountain famously stokes up the environmental fervor from the hills of Vermont, but when is my choice of coffee a statement about my out-of-the-closet love for Rick Steves and my S&M obediance to Suze Orman?
Now I can actually understand those countless coffee products out there with the Lexus brand image and the Chevy Impala taste. Afterall, we’ve long had that analog in the wine world — for example, when Orson Welles told us Paul Masson sells no wine before its time, even if the stuff took only four months to make (“Thursday was a most excellent vintage…”). It’s one thing to market stale, pre-ground coffee in a sealed capsule — coffee’s answer to instant Tang — like a $10 candy bar. It is quite another to market to your personal coffee lifestyle.
Which brings me to a somewhat related, disturbing news item released today about the introduction of a new style of coffee in that coffee-as-medicine vein: Slimming coffee to launch in UK. Here we learn, “the drink, named CoffeeSlender, uses a novel, coffee-derived ingredient called Svetol that has been shown in studies to aid weight loss during a diet.” I suppose that after extensive market research, Café Bulimia just wasn’t as appealing — even if it is what all the top models are drinking.
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