generic coffee or ‘advertising a commodity’

coffee dog


“… the research spit out this tepid little storyboard that both research and the client had approved. There on the conveyer belt lay the TV spot—a trembling, pathetic thing that did not like being looked at directly. A sort of marketing Frankenstein—chunks of different departmental agendas and man-dates, all sewn together by focus groups and researchers into some-thing that looked like a TV spot but was, in fact, an abomination. We should have hammered a spike through its heart right there.”

Luke Sullivan




This is about a TV advertising campaign that someone should have hammered a spike through its heart.

And because they didn’t … I will.


This is about Gevalia coffee and their commodity coffee television messaging dressed up with a suave <see ‘creepy’> fake Swede <he is actually Californian>.


gevalia creepThis is about advertising my good friend Luke Sullivan calls the infamous ‘Frankenstein execution’.





You convince yourself through research you have to have a laundry list of things which must be included <because research shows that people associate them with attitudes good for your product or service> within 30 seconds.


Luke used to call these ‘the sacred cows’ <or Tired Old Visuals> … the images you ‘have’ to show because they are the standards of the category.


For example <using coffee to make a point>:



–          Have to establish first thing in morning<because that is when people love their coffee>.


–          Have to show the coffee maker <because how else do you brew coffee>.


–          Have to show coffee dripping in pot <because it implies each drop is tasty>.

<note: not a ‘must have’ but a ‘like to have’ is the sound of the ‘drip, drip, drip’>


–          Have to show coffee in clear pot <because it shows the rich color of the coffee>.


–          Have to have ‘the pour shot’ <because it personalizes the pot of coffee>


–          Have to have ‘the smell shot’ coffee morning<because if your coffee doesn’t smell good it must suck>.


<note 1: this shot is usually shown holding a cup in two hands … not only because one hand is never enough but two shows your coffee has real gravitas … a heaviness that demands two hands>.


<note 2: you typically like to have some steam rising from the cup of coffee because … well … your morning coffee has to be hot>


–          Have to have the ‘sip and smile’ shot <it shows you actually like it>.


–          Have to show the package <because if you dot show the package how can anyone find your product>.


–          Have to … well … add in something if you would like.




There you go.


In the end you get 30 seconds of delivering the list of things you feel like you need to show … instead of using 30 seconds to show why your brand is something distinct someone should spend their hard earned money on.


Sound silly?

It happens all the time.



Think about it when you look at the Gevalia tv execution you will either laugh out loud or cry <all they did was throw in a Fabio-like guy amongst the tired old images>.




If you build communications this way, in the end, you have simply built a Frankenstein <bolts coming out of neck and all>.



Let me remind people.

Frankenstein was no beauty <he was brutal looking> and Frankenstein was not the guy you wanted to meet.






I found this comment which summarized my initial thought <and I am not European>:


As a European I find the commercial nauseating and dumb. It caters to 13 year olds. No one in Sweden looks like that. Accent is phony and not Swedish. Typical American humor …



Gevalia TV:





Another Gevalia tv execution.

This one I have never seen on TV … just on youtube … so … I can only hope it is a gag video.



Gevalia really bad execution:



gevalia over starbucksAnd then there is this Gevalia commercial which attempts to be quirky but instead ends up hiding the real point … which is they want to say that people prefer Gevalia over a cup of Starbucks.



Gevalia Banana:



In trying to better understand why they did what they did <although I knew what they were trying to even without doing so> I found this PR release:



Gevalia coffee is getting in touch with its inner Swede.


Taxi this week launched a major ad campaign for the Swedish brand that centers around “Johan,” a suave, well-dressed character with Brad Pitt-like hair. He’s the European alternative to “Joe”—as in an American cup of Joe—and personifies a coffee that’s worth taking the time to savor and sip from a china cup. The Swedish character was born of the challenge of distinguishing a premium coffee in a crowded marketplace. Or as Kraft’s Kim Bealle put it: “What would be interesting to people about the 13th or 14th brand out there?”


Johan also was designed to connect with the brand’s core sales target of women 35-45. Bealle described him as “appealing” and “a little bit seductive, but he stays on the right side of it.”






I’m sure this dopey company would defend itself by saying that the ad is so exaggerated that consumers would obviously realize they are just kidding … but it has just the opposite effect. It comes across as stupidly serious.



What is it with companies <and their ad agencies> who seemingly avoid the obvious distinction <it is Swedish and it has some Swedish characteristics which could be enhanced> because they fear not being able to make that distinctness meaningful?


Why is it that companies think they can simply communicate the commodity decommoditizationbasics and dress it up in humor or ‘campy’ to make it engaging … or ‘cool.’

<note: coffee isn’t humorous and ‘campy’ is really really difficult to pull off well>



By the way … advertising agencies get paid to avoid the fear and uncover ways to say things in a relevant distinctive way.



I actually love Gevalia coffee but that doesn’t offset how banal these ads are.




All that said.


I know for a fact Gevalia competes in a really tough category.

And in a crowded category like coffee it is also really tough to convince people to buy a Swedish brand <which implies special occasions> not just as a special occasion <or a treat> but instead as a frequent purchase.



But I don’t care.

Gevalia missed an opportunity.

A HUGE opportunity.



Through some mystique and je ne se quais type brand character <and I mean attributes not a physical character> they could have embraced a distinct identity defining themselves not in terms of the consumer wants but in terms of what the brand is.

By the way … this isn’t thought leadership … this is brand leadership.



I fully understand that in today’s world advertising agencies are under huge pressure to deliver immediate results and often have short relationships with their clients who are forever firing them whenever another hot agency shows up or sales stagnate for a quarter.


But that is no excuse for doing crap work.


How hard is it for agencies to put into action some simple things Luke states very clearly & succinctly in his book ‘hey whipple squeeze this”:





Get the visual clichés out of your system right away.

Certain visuals are just old. Somewhere out there is a Home for Tired Old Visuals. Sitting there in rocking chairs on the porch are visuals like Uncle Sam, a devil with a pitchfork, and a proud lion, just rocking back and forth waiting for someone to use them in an ad once again. And grousing, “When we were young, we were in all kinds of ads. People used to love us.” Remember: Every category has its own version of Tired Old Visuals. In insurance, it’s grandfathers flying kites with grandchildren. In the tech industries, it’s earnest people looking at computer screens. And in beer, it’s boobs. Learn what iconography is overused in your category, and avoid it.”



In my opinion (and the neo-Freudian Carl Jung’s), the mind works and moves through and thinks in and dreams in symbols. Red means ANGER. A dog means LOYAL. A hand coming out of water means HELP. Ad people might say that each of these images has “equity,” something they mean by dint of the associations people have ascribed to them over the years. You may be able to use this equity to your client’s advantage, particularly when their product or service is intangible like, say, insurance. A metaphor can help make it real. What makes metaphors particularly useful to your craft is they’re a sort of conceptual shorthand and say with one image what you might otherwise need 20 words to say. They get a lot of work done quickly and simply.

The trick is doing it well.




“You cannot paint the Mona Lisa by assigning one dab each to a thousand painters.”

William Buckley




Research, when used well, is invaluable <at times>. The thing is, the best people in the business use research to generate ideas, not to judge them. They use it at the beginning of the whole advertising process to find out what to say. When it’s used to determine how to say it, great ideas suffer horribly.




be differentThe painful truth is that sometimes clients need to be reminded that their product isn’t substantially different from the competition’s. All that may distinguish the two is the advertising you propose. Nothing else. Your client needs to see that while there’s no explicit claim in the ad different from what his competitor might be able to say that there are ways of saying what you need to say in a way that creates the differentiation.



Gevalia makes me think about how crappy work for brands with great potential happen.


I have to think about it … because there should be, no, there is no excuse for having crappy work for a great potential brand. In other words … the work has failed the brand.



It hurts me to see a brand failed because most agency people are actually comfortable, and very good at, sizing up a situation rapidly <and well> and making a judgment call <and a good one>.

Unfortunately it often seems because of agency turnover <both in accounts and staff> the people who begin the thinking & doing are often not around to see where the dust falls on the advice they have given.

This drives short term ‘make them happy’ or even ‘let’s make a splash’ <because I won’t be around when the water settles> type work.



No excuses.


In a crowded category … in a world where almost everything seems almost commodity-like … inevitably when you introduce a product or a brand … you are in the decommoditizing business.


You are in the standing out and being distinct <all the while being relevant> business.


That often means being bold.




I don’t know if this is right for Gevalia … but … I want a coffee ad where there is someone standing there gritting their teeth and snarling … “brew, god-dammit” … at the coffee machine.


That’s it.

Every coffee lover sees themselves in the vignette, everyone understands, and it says they want … REALLY want … that cup of coffee.

Tie it to the brand and ‘presto’ … I don’t need anyone smelling, savoring or slobbering over some magical cup of give me


Gevalia should be embarrassed.



Taxi, a darn good ad agency, should be embarrassed.



Coffee deserves better.

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Written by Bruce