I THOUGHT WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT A CARDBOARD CUP

I THOUGHT WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT A CARDBOARD CUP

(And here is the resulting blog.)

In 2011, one in nine of us made a daily trip to a coffee shop. Five years on, and it’s now one in five of us.

Last year, the UK population spent £7.9bn in coffee outlets.  According to the consultancy Allegra Strategies, about 1.7bn cups of coffee are sold each year here, and from more than 18,000 outlets. (They predict that this will grow to 30,000 outlets by 2025.)

With the industry continuing to boom in the UK, high streets are now crammed with the chains you’d expect - but also with a growing number of independent cafes, vans, and carts. The latter group differentiate themselves by offering the consumer something different - something enhanced, something more 'authentic' – more ‘artisan’.

Pressure to keep up
Companies such as these are enjoying rapid growth in towns and cities, and they're giving the big hitters a right old roasting (pun intended). And it's this which has moved the high street coffee chains' tactics away from being overtly sparkly and commercial, to trying to keep up - by offering some of the same things at their stores:

  • special roasts
  • soya / coconut / almond milk
  • gluten-free products
  • 'rustic' / quirkier decor in their cafes
  • 'transparent processes' (meaning allowing the customer to see the whole process of coffee-making in front of them)
  • offering locally-made pastries / cakes
  • more attention paid to corporate social responsibility

The list goes on...

For the consumer, this is obviously no bad thing - we get more choice and a more competitively-priced cup of coffee at the end of it. In Reading for example, there are independents popping up all over the place, and the high street is all the better for it. From Tamp Culture Coffee to Workhouse Coffee - these places are a breath of fresh air, and invariably more interesting to visit than your common place, 'identikit' franchise. 

Whilst the high street brands’ marketing strategies become ever more complex in order to try and claw back some of the market share lost to independents, they are turning more to digital means - something which the likes of Starbucks and Costa Coffee have oodles of cash to lavish on. This is resulting in all-singing, all-dancing websites, personalised profiles, and loyalty apps (which can sync to a physical gift card, for example). 

And now here's where I start talking about what's hinted at in title of this blog...
There is one thing the big players simply can’t digitise – the takeaway coffee cup. This receptacle for hot liquid started life as just a lowly, plain (usually brown) cup with a corrugated sleeve. It's now developed into a component of an outlet's brand, with most regarding it as an essential piece of their marketing collateral. Cheap to produce, practical, and with the capability to pack in enough design to successfully differentiate a company with a look that consumers instantly recognise - on the street, in an airport, on a bus...

As I picked up a coffee from a stand at Kings Cross last month, I noticed how much was going on on this glorified cardboard mug.

I am the kind of person who likes to over-analyse and fret over details anyway, but I started to think about how a takeaway coffee cup had evolved from being a bit of a functional non-entity, to something packed with design and messaging. 

They have in fact grown into something of an aesthetic wonder, in some cases:

   Graphic designer Miguel Cardona has created a range of remarkable images on the side of takeaway coffee cups,.

Graphic designer Miguel Cardona has created a range of remarkable images on the side of takeaway coffee cups,.

I know I’m a digital marketer, and this is not exactly digital marketing, but I thought about how there are just some things that can - and should never - be digitised.

And whilst most high street chains use their cups cleanly, with just the logo taking centre stage, one brand in particular really packs a lot into the external surface area of their cups – and that brand is Caffe Nero.

Below I’m going to attempt dissect their standard takeaway cup.

(NB: Trying my best not to sound like a lunatic, I did actually attempt to contact Caffe Nero's head office via their website; asking them a bunch of specific questions about the design of their cups. They never got back to me. Probably not the usual kind of enquiry they receive.)

So, we can see there's a great deal going on here. And the cost to produce each coffee cup unit must be miniscule - so why aren't Pret, Costa and Starbucks taking this same approach? They go for a plain cup + main logo design. Is this because they believe they just don't need anything else? Is it apathy? Are they missing a trick?

I'm not quite sure. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

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