Monday, October 19, 2009

Selling the sizzle, or selling burlap bags

The latest company to purchase all of the advertising space at the Embarcadero BART station is the often-reviled fast-food chain whose coffee surprisingly was rated highest by a rating agency a few years back. Let's paraphrase an acting expression and call it the Scottish restaurant.

Also doing some advertising these days is the leading purveyor of brewed coffee, whose patrons' daily purchases are frequently an example of things to forego in articles suggesting ways to economize. Let's call that chain Celestial Dollars. I've seen one of their billboards at a BART station I rarely go to, and some print ads.

The Scottish restaurant's billboards blanketing the Embarcadero station have a perky orange/yellow bacground; half have snappy sayings along the lines of (I never wake up enough in my morning commute to write down the ads) "brewed just around the corner," "less than half the fare to Orinda" --- a nice acknowledgment of where the billboards are --, and a few others I can't remember. Every other billboard has those lines, on the perky background; the others have up-close views of a the coffee drinks ---- oooh, foam; ooooh, whipped cream and chocolate. As the old saying goes, advertising isn't selling a steak, it's selling the sizzle. The Scottish restaurant seems to be doing a good job of selling, if not the sizzle, then the aroma of coffee.

Celestial Dollars, on the other hand, has its billboard (the one I've seen) and its print ads (I've seen more than one) with text on a burlap bag. The color is a burlapy-brown. There are no photos of coffee products. The texts are either annoying (something about some drink is "like an adult blanky" --- excuse me Celestial, that's WAY too sweet for me) or bland (something about their buyers go everywhere to purchase coffee beans; something that suggests they have high social concerns for those who grow the beans -- true enough for the fair-traded coffee beans it uses, but those aren't the only coffee beans, as I understand it.) Overall the ads are bland. No sizzle; either cutesiness, or an appeal to conscience.

Maybe the blandness of the ads reflects the fact Celestial Dollars hasn't had to advertise much up to now. Presumably this step into advertising reflects the fact that some patrons are listening to those articles on how to save money, and are either switching to the Scottish restaurant, or just plain skipping the chance to not just buy an expensive coffee drink, but to personally micro-manage each ingredient in the drink at Celestial Dollars. For whatever reason, the company is now advertising, but not selling much of a sizzle. I suspect I am not the only person who doesn't salivate at the picture of a burlap bag. Now, coffee with whipped cream and chocolate -- that's another thing entirely.

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