Coffee Marketing: Why So Romantic?

Nescafe’s recent 3-in-1 advert depicts the aftermath of a twenty-something hipster party, most notably in the form of awkward glances between men and women who obviously had a romantic interlude the night before. What did it mean? Does she like me? Will he call? One cup of Nescafe later gets the morning “back on track”, and soon we find our couple, giggling and flirting once again, albeit a bit more soberly.

What is with the propensity for coffee brands to market themselves as elixirs of passion and lust?

A few months ago we were contacted by a company that wanted to market a new brand of coffee. They asked us to look at the conversation around drinking coffee – what were the main themes and contexts of conversation?

What we found was in startling contrast to how most coffee brands market their goods.

Romance? Passion? No. What people care about when it comes to coffee are the real life circumstances that surround coffee: taking a break from work, the need for caffeine, and socialising with friends:

  • “Some days I love working at home. Currently drinking coffee, blasting electro music and catching up on work.”
  • “Drinking coffee to stay awake.. I dont even like coffee.”
  • “A cup of coffee and conversation with a good friend. The perfect pair to enjoy with a sunrise. The world is so quiet today.”

We identified, measured and visualised these contexts and created a “brand map” of conversations around “drinking coffee”. We also did the same thing for Starbucks to see how a major coffee brand compared. The brand maps show the size and average distance of these contexts from the central topic. The size and position reflect the size and relevance of the conversation; in other words, a big circle close to the centre indicates a relatively large context that is highly relevant to the central topic.


The brand maps show that the largest conversational contexts around “drinking coffee” are Work, Energy and Socialising. The most relevant contexts are Coffee making, Flavour and Coffee shop. In contrast, the largest contexts for Starbucks are Work, Socialising and Price, whilst the most relevant contexts are Snack, Price and Socialising.


It’s not that you don’t find conversations about romance and flirtation – you can see it there for “drinking coffee”, hovering diminutively between “Relaxation” and “Price”; it’s just that it’s not what most people talk about. The opportunity for a brand here is bring its branding closer to the real conversational contexts of a topic, so that it associates itself more intimately with the brand attributes which give a product social media currency.

We have performed these studies on a number of different consumer contexts and have found a pattern which suggests that brands are in danger of ignoring the real reasons why consumers give products currency. Those have a lot to do with the intersection between a product and real life: the school run, working late in the office, making time during the day to meet friends, even the big events like bereavement, marriage. A lot of brand messaging ignores reality – and why shouldn’t it? Brands often speak to dreams, hopes, aspirations. But our work on coffee suggests that many products are missing an opportunity to be useful, relevant and TALKED ABOUT.

So who’s going to step up first?

2 Responses to Coffee Marketing: Why So Romantic?

  1. Monica,
    I found the brand map information very interesting. Is there a more complete publication of this study availble online that I can read?

    Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your interest, Wilmara. Unfortunately we don’t have the complete publication available for download at the this time. If and when this changes we’ll certainly let you know. I’m glad you found the brand map interesting.

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