“Grind me, bathe me in hot steamy water and moisten me with cream if you must. Have it your way, any way, a mouthful of my beans will leave you in ecstasy.”
If I told you that I found the above tagline on a bottle of warming lubricant or a pack of condoms, you would probably believe me, but you would be wrong. This poorly punctuated (and terribly written) description actually comes from the Facebook business page of Perth based coffee company ‘Fresh One.’
Upon browsing the page, one can find an advertising campaign containing imagery of women which some might call pornographic. Women giving fellatio, a woman spread eagled on a bed with only a shadow for modesty, bikini clad women dousing themselves in milk, bare backsides in skimpy underwear, and naked women covered in chocolate. If naked women don’t offend you, then there are also images of coffee beans stuffed into heroin needles, snorting straws alongside lines of coffee, and subservient men under the heels of women’s shoes, or with their heads and hands jammed in guillotines. There is literally nowhere to go with this seemingly classless business and their passé advertising methods which, far from being fresh, are anti progressionist, predictable and tired. I have personally seen more tasteful advertising in Club X and Zoo Magazine. In other words, I guess one could call it cringe worthy smut.
The business touts their philosophy to be about a 100% approach to life, challenging the status quo and the freedom of unsuppressed expression. Aside from some of their more harmless advertising which is less desperate and more professional, I fail to see how naked women with their legs open, fleshy backsides, sadomasochism and drug use even supports this notion. When I think about a 100% approach to life, I think about getting lost in Venice at 2AM, jumping out of planes, diving with sharks or climbing to base camp. What I don’t think about is blow jobs first thing in the morning, drug addiction and walking over men with stilettos on. The very prospect that they would include such imagery in such a broad and versatile philosophy demonstrates an extreme lack of imagination and an absence of creativity at best, and a thinly veiled excuse for further gratuitous sexual advertising at worst.
Market research was obviously not a massive priority for this business which has a mere 651 Facebook likes, and is advertising a social product of which 50% of their consumers are women, and a further unknown percentage may possibly dislike references to drug abuse and sadomasochism. Australian’s spend 800 million dollars a year on coffee, and just over half of our 23 million strong population drink it. We are talking about shooting fish in a barrel here, but forget the gun. They are going to need a boat to land business with this approach.
As someone who does not have a marketing degree, or a business degree (a layman in other words), I simply could not understand how such an obvious mistake could be made by people who I assumed had more knowledge in the area. I was happy to simply put it down to a gross miscalculation of risk for the owners, and I actually felt a little sorry for them as their site began to fill with angry commentary from visitors. I had pictured them as the well meaning business owners who had used the old ‘sex sells’ adage and, in this case, taken it a little too far. I poised, awaiting the inevitable apology; the thing that most consumers accept on merit in an instant because everyone believes in humility and second chances, but not Fresh One.
On Tuesday the 3rd of June, the business posted a response to their would-be consumers (ie: potential clients), which not only defended their campaign, but labelled their complainants as a “minority” group with “ultra conservative views”. They then continued to prattle on, as predicatively as the campaign that they were defending, about the rights of free speech and how important this right is to society (cue eye rolls). Some people said that they were arrogant, others said that they were unintelligent and smutty, and whilst all of the above is correct, I likened them to a set of sex obsessed sixteen year olds that had just walked out of a popular culture class who, despite their insistence in the belief that “coffee culture goes deeper” could still only think of the same shallow, smutty clichéd advertising that appeals to those who let the little head do all the thinking (not very philosophical). I don’t care if they’re sixteen or sixty, it’s time to grow up, or at least grow into the society that we actually live in now, where creativity, not sex, garners the most response from consumers, and where using such pornographic imagery in advertising sets your business apart for all the wrong reasons.
I’m all up for a bit of risqué sexual expression. Hell, I may even have dabbled in it, and the very thing that makes it attractive is its lack of visibility in public life. Such things are supposed to stay underground. Not everything in life needs to be offered up on this old stale alter of free speech whenever some unoriginal company wants to use it for shock value. It’s embarrassing and, quite frankly, smacks of juvenility (which does not walk hand in hand with deep philosophy).
After a tirade of completely negative feedback to this statement, of which I was merely an observer, Fresh One made a further statement on June 6 saying that they had reconsidered the use of certain images in their campaign, although it was a backhanded apology and the word sorry was never actually used. Instead, the company, which usually vies for the business of the consumer, decided to outline the faults of the consumer and how they handled their message to the business, and I quote:
“Shouting abuse and calling names is never the best way to win people over to your point of view. Ever watch the angry anarchists and professional protesters waging war against the machine at G20 gatherings? They don’t win any followers worth having to their cause with that behaviour. They just alienate potential supporters and get themselves arrested”
I don’t usually post quotes this long, but in this instance, I really couldn’t resist.
Just when I thought that they had come to the party, and apologised, albeit bitterly, for their behaviour, they proceed to further exhibit their cluelessness by educating the consumer about how to get the business on board with the feedback. Am I living in bizarro land? Such blatant displays of stupidity really don’t deserve any further explanation. As for their reference to the G20 gatherings, I am gobsmacked. Who would have thought that an argument over a smutty marketing campaign could also outline an individual’s complete lack of understanding regarding political and social comparisons? If they had dug any deeper, they could have formed a tunnel long enough to transport their beans direct from South America using slave labour (whoops; was that too much? I didn’t mean to be offensive). Fresh One also made reference to those behind the campaign by insisting that “there are young, empowered women involved, who obviously have a different slant on where the line should be drawn.”
The notion that a degrading advertising campaign is suddenly acceptable because there were women involved is not only an ignorant standpoint, but an outdated one as well. It is akin to stating that your non racist friends can laugh at racist jokes, so everyone else should be okay with it. We all have behaviours and beliefs that we exhibit with those that we know, but we would never insist that such notions should be accepted by others. This is precisely why we have the “minority” groups that Fresh One insists that its complainants belong to. If anyone is in the minority here, it is them. Additionally, if we are going to talk about line drawing, then I would like to know where the line actually is for these so called “empowered women”. Short of pornography without the explicit money shots, we aren’t exactly talking about a canyon of difference between straight out porn and advertising here. Sexually explicit images of women for the sake of advertising are no longer in vogue, and are becoming less and less acceptable. Failure to recognise this makes advertising campaigns look clunky and poorly researched. But still, no remorse from Fresh One.
Forbes magazine recently wrote an article on corporate apology, and guess what; be it a global apology from technology giant Apple for their lousy maps, or a local apology from a restaurant with a filthy kitchen, the customer is always right, and whether you give a damn about the complaint or not, you apologise and eat humble pie, because this is good business practice. Contained in this article were seven well known, and understood, PR crisis containment points, six of which were blatantly ignored by Fresh One. Even those who aren’t offended by the campaign itself should certainly be offended by such flagrant arrogance, the levels of which are not often displayed by other businesses who are trying to serve in the market, and who probably deserve the business more as a result.
Give an inch, and take a mile.
Free speech is undoubtedly a good thing, and a sacred thing that this country has harnessed through war, toil and sacrifice. It is also overused in a thoughtless society where such a sacred gift can be thrown into the filthy smut pit of consumer advertising, utilised solely to justify the method of shock value marketing, like a cheap rag passed around for everyone to wipe with. This in itself should offend everyone who holds free speech as a gift, rather than a clichéd afterthought.
You may have a deep philosophy Fresh One, but your message is shallow, and the offensiveness of your defence only causes to further alienate consumers who grow tired of righteous upstarts who degrade women, glorify drug use, and use free speech as their safety net, without even being able to conjure a sincere apology when they know that they’ve screwed up.
Fresh One, you are an amateur business operating in a market of discerning consumers, and you deserve to be treated as such. It is never too late to drop the pride and start over, although I’m doubtful.
To see the campaign photos which Fresh One have since removed, please consult the Collective Shout website, as mentioned below.