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As we learnt following our review of Burger King’s controversial ‘Moldy Whopper’ campaign in 2020, our brains are wired to process information in a fast and instinctive way. This means rational messaging often gets overshadowed by creative elements – which tends to be what elicits a more intense emotional response. Which brings us to Barista Bros’ Iced Coffee Flavoured Milk and… catfish.
In order to convey just how delicious Barista Bros’ reformulated iced coffee tastes, the ad put it to the test using “a lot of catfish pretending to be a person”. Purportedly, catfish have 10 times as many tastebuds as humans – so, surely if catfish enjoy the taste of Barista Bros, it’d only make sense that humans do as well… right?
So, we wondered, would people find the catfish weird and off-putting, and subsequently overshadow everything else? Would they prevent the ad from conveying important messages around the product’s reformulated taste?
To assess the effectiveness of Barista Bros’ ‘Catfish’, we tested it using our three C’s framework.
Despite their attempts to blend in, the catfish certainly stood out, with people having not seen anything quite like it/them before. The funny and irreverent interactions of the supporting characters aided this, creating a distinctive tone which left almost half of viewers feeling amused.
Unfortunately, a quarter of viewers also found the catfish weird, disturbing, and off-putting – leading some to find the ad more irritating than enjoyable. While this group represented a much smaller proportion than those who liked the ad, its overall appeal was inhibited.
Building the entire story around the product is a great way to leverage a visually distinct branding property like the Barista Bros bottle. This is important since the campaign is a completely new creative platform for Barista Bros, with the brand pivoting away from previous communications (2014 and 2017) which went to great lengths to hero the product’s origins, and emphasize its quality and authenticity.
As a result, the advertising style didn’t completely gel with people’s expectations of Barista Bros – but recognition of the quirky and abstract approach indicates it has the potential to develop into an ownable branding property over time. Furthermore, subtle cues such as the eccentric character recalling the coffee beans’ origins, and the American voiceover, will help develop a unique set of associations for Barista Bros in due course.
While entertainment can be an effective mechanism for getting people’s attention, generating brand predisposition requires leaving people with a meaningful impression about the brand. Making emotional appeals, presenting the brand as being different to others, and convincing people with rational arguments, together provide a complete picture of the mechanisms for influencing behavior.
While most took out the underlying message about Barista Bros Iced Coffee being great tasting, the unusual and provocative production also left many people confused and feeling like they’d missed something. This overshadowed the take-away of secondary messaging around the product’s reformulated taste and no sugar added content – which might’ve helped carve out a clearer point of difference. It also hindered the ad from building warmer feelings toward the brand.
As programmatic media continues to bombard people with lower, not higher-quality advertising, marketers are having to find increasingly creative ways to cut through in order to tell their brand story. The new and quirky approach may have been a result of the brand’s previous strategy (which made the coffee beans’ origin the hero) struggling to build meaningful difference versus other iced coffee brands. Nonetheless, food and beverage brands need to think carefully about the subconscious ideas they create in people’s minds – being careful to not overshadow or convolute brand associations, or cause friction with important drivers of category purchase.