Show Your Patriotism—Drink Coffee!

Today I want to bring you a little coffee history. I was reading Starbucked by Taylor Clark and one of the stories he tells about the history of coffee in America caught my eye. I thought I’d share it with you. But first, a little background (I promise there is a point to this story—it just takes a little while to get there).

I don’t know how many of you grew up drinking coffee before Starbucks became popular. It may be that for most of you, you never cared about coffee before the big green apron came along. I didn’t drink much coffee myself until fairly recently. To be honest, I don’t know if I ever went into a Starbucks before 2002. Growing up, I had an occasional cup after church (a Methodist tradition) maybe once a year, but I was never really what you would consider a coffee drinker. During high school, I remember some older friends telling me that there was no way anyone could make it through college without drinking coffee. They were wrong about at least one person.

My own personal connection with coffee really began in 2001 on a trip to Italy. While staying at a hostel (Casa Olmata) in Rome, we were given a ticket for a complimentary breakfast—a cappuccino and a croissant—at a nearby bar (café) that was across the street from Santa Maria Maggiore. We found the bar about 8am and walked in, a little unsure of ourselves. It was my first trip to the country and I couldn’t speak much Italian. We handed the tickets to the barista and he immediately set to work on the drinks. I stood there waiting, looking around and taking in everything around me.

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Sì, la bellezza ha un gusto

Going to business school, you get to learn all kinds of fun stuff, especially if you haven’t spent much time in the corporate world. Our first term of the MIM program we took marketing from Brian McCarthy, a former GM of marketing at Microsoft. His class was lots of fun and very informative, and it really opened my eyes to how companies try to reach customers. The biggest challenge that all companies have is trying to get people to try their products. Then they try to create some type of emotional bond with their customer. Most people are creatures of habit, and once they find something they like, it is hard to get them to try new things. You could say that marketing is the science (or art) of overcoming that resistance to change.

Ever since taking Brian’s class, I pay more attention to ads and commercials. I try to figure out what they’re trying to communicate. For example, I will see a commercial for Chevrolet pickups and try to dissect it. What is it trying to say? Chevy Trucks (a more “manly” word than pickups) are tough, reliable and American. The message goes beyond the products being sold and moves into the realm of emotions and values.

One of the projects we had to do for class was to develop a marketing plan for some type of product. We could either choose to market our own business idea or we could take some company’s product that we liked and pick a country outside the US in which to market it. I chose to write a marketing plan for Illy coffee in China, probably because I was drinking a lot of Illy coffee at Park Avenue Café at the time.

One of the things I came across when I was creating the marketing plan was the following commercial (it’s much better if you play it with something that has good speakers and turn up the sound):

Elegance. Style. Art. Beauty. The finer things in life. These words describe what comes to mind when I watch that commercial. I was captivated when I saw it. The music (Atlantico by Roberto Cacciapaglia) was dramatic, the images were beautiful and graceful and the tagline, La bellezza ha un gusto (literally “beauty has a taste”), captured the spirit of both Italy and the company. Italians care deeply about the quality of the food and drink they consume, and their companies are well-known for their beautiful design (think Ferrari, Ducati, Gucci).

In the marketing plan, I wrote that the commercial would resonate in China too. The people in both countries have a strong appreciation for beauty. Italy and China are also the home of two of the world’s most important ancient civilizations and if done right, a campaign of “East meets West” over a cup of Illy could be very effective.

One question about the commercial is whether it ended up selling more coffee or not. I have no idea, but at the very least it provided me with some entertainment for a while. Two years later, I still haven’t forgotten about it, so Illy was effective at reaching at least one customer. My question is, does it capture your attention like it did mine?