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Historically, coffee marketing has been a healthy mix of fear, shame, and male libido appeals, often masked in wholesome backdrops.  Until the 2000s, coffee marketing was largely targeted at men, and when it was directed towards women, it was how the purchase of their coffee would appeal to their husbands.  Through market research in the 70s and 80s, AD agencies determined that it was women making the purchasing decisions in the grocery store, which explains the shift away from this male focused mindset.

AD agencies did also conclude that men, being the primary breadwinners in most households, were the ones buying coffee by the cup on their way to work outside of the grocery store setting.  Suddenly words like "rich", "bold", and "robust" were used by most coffee companies to describe the highly available dark roasted coffee in a retail coffee shop setting.  

While many may not think about it initially, those words are directly appealing to the male libido.  

What?  Noah, what are you talking about? Male libido?

Of course major coffee companies want to create the largest market possible for dark roasted inexpensive coffee, because they have a competitive advantage in volume.  Obviously dark roasting cheap coffee masks the defects, so the Ad agencies were tasked with figuring out the best way to sell it.  What is the quickest way to sell lower quality coffee to a seemingly mostly male audience?  

Convince them if they take your product they will be bigger, stronger, faster, and while probably on a subconscious level telling them they will have a bigger penis (you can laugh, but we are all adults here, and trust me that is the truth).  

How else can you explain why most people just assume "rich", "bold", and "robust" (dark roasted) coffee has the most caffeine and flavor?  It is because those words are being associated subconsciously with power, and saying "if you drink this, YOU will be bolder and richer".  Think a cup of Stuart Smalley every morning, "You are good enough, you are smart enough, and doggone it, people like you" with a dash of, "Also your car is awesome, your muscles look bigger today, and I am pretty sure that woman behind you thinks you are hot".

As more women have entered the marketplace and been given the respect they deserve, due to the growing independence and increased buying power, we have seen a shift in the last 10 years of lighter, brighter, more ethical based advertising, which is an indicator that companies are finally understanding who is buying their products and why.  Our industry of specialty coffee is clearly trying to sell a product based on its merit, based on its cup quality.  Of course some companies still use the old school marketing lingo for largely the same reasons they have been used for over 60 years, but the social based message is a fundamental shift in how people sell coffee.  It is what our audience cares about.  They want to be connected to the products they buy, from their eggs, to their meat, milk, veggies, and coffee. 

Little green stickers on bags, farmer pictures, stories, words like equal and fair, and black and white logos, are all drawing lines in the sand for consumers.  They say, you either care about the world, your community and the environment, or you don't.  That is classic ethical based advertising, not necessarily connected with cup quality.  

The flipside, companies that create an environment that speaks to quality and have a healthy mix of explaining how delicious this coffee is first, along with a supporting story, are brilliantly walking the line of appealing to both quality consumers and ethical consumers.  Creating an environment that speaks to quality is key, and we see this executed really well in some places.  I saw a high concentration of this in Melbourne Australia.  I like the example of buying a diamond in a back alley as opposed to a high end jewelry store - if the diamond is the same, you most likely would be willing to pay more in the high end store.  Why?  Because the high end store opens consumers up emotionally, while the back alley store puts customers in a defensive mindset while devaluing the product they are selling.  

It isn't easy to walk that line of cup quality and ethics, but afterall, we are trying to sell a high quality product that first and foremost TASTES good; it just so happens that most of the best coffee in the world is produced by a farmer with an incredible story, and the character + integrity to care enough to do the job well.  This is where ethical coffee and quality coffee meet.  It is those heros in the communities that become quality leaders to produce the most amazing coffee in the world, and it is our job to have that story available, when our consumers want it.  

So what is next for coffee marketing? 

Will customers continue to pay more for both ethical coffee and quality coffee seperately?  Or will those two have to be one in the same as consumers become more educated?  Or will a bag of low quality coffee, with a picture of a farmer and a green sticker on it, be enough to demand a higher price?  How do the quality leaders in our industry differentiate their ethical coffee from the low-quality ethical based roasters?  Will those coffee bars in "the back alley" be able to charge the same amount as the coffee bars supporting their coffee with an environment that speaks to a higher quality product?  As the market continues to be oversaturated with smaller roasters telling whimsical marketing stories of how their coffee is sourced "directly", what will be the next point of differentiation? What will be the next evolution in coffee marketing?

Those are the questions that will keep companies on the crest of the wave, not stranded behind the surf. 

As companies in the specialty coffee industry  it is important we have a clear understanding of what matters most to us culturally, and put a differentiated product on the table that doesn't compromise the integrity of the product category through the chosen approach of how to market it.