The bitter truth

Imagine that our corporation is on the verge of introducing a new product, a beverage that could take the world by storm. Then, as so often happens to good ideas, the Marketing Department gets hold of it. The response probably would be something like this:

To: CEO Whittlebrain
From: Marketing
Subject: New beverage

We here in Marketing regret to report that this proposed product is dead-on-arrival. Research shows there's simply no market for it. The product has so many problems, we're not even sure where to begin. But here's a sampling of what's wrong:

--This drink is served hot. Market research shows that customers prefer cold drinks.

--We sampled the product here in Marketing, and found it to be bitter and caustic. We had to add cream and sugar to make it at all palatable. This is not a good sign.

--The proposed price would put this product in the "expensive" range, yet it's mostly water that must be added by the customers themselves. We don't often credit the American buying public with much sense here in Marketing, but surely they'd see through this.

--Research and Development has predicted that this beverage will be popular in restaurants, but it already costs a lot and eateries must add their own profit margin. Do we really think people will pay $4 for a cup at a restaurant?

--The beverage is produced from beans grown in tropical climes, and we all know how iffy that can be. First, supply will be subject to the vagaries of the weather. Second, tropical countries aren't known for the stability of their governments or economies. Do we really need another coup interrupting delivery? We suppose we could push the drink as "all-natural," but it doesn't seem to fit that market niche, which we here in Marketing call the "Birkenstocks." Hasn't R&D ever heard the phrase "artificial color and flavorings?"

--Finally, the product seems to have a number of "lifestyle" drawbacks. We found that a single serving made us feel jittery. And multiple servings resulted in frequent need for bathroom breaks. This isn't what the American public seeks in a quick refreshment.

Our conclusion? Dump this product immediately and focus our R&D efforts on something Americans want and need, such as fruit-flavored malt liquor.

OK, you've guessed it by now. The beverage is coffee, an old stand-by that's taken the country by storm. Coffee is the Model T of drinks, basic and black and low-brow. You can dress it up however you want -- add froth and flavors and call it something like Mocha-Choka and sell it for six bucks at Starbucks -- but underneath it's still coffee, the lifeblood of the American worker.

Remember your first taste of coffee? It seemed exotic, something adults slurped from heavy ceramic mugs, the perfect balance to their unfiltered cigarettes and rye toast. When they finally let us try a sip, our reaction was something along the lines of the mythical marketers above.

But as with so many things -- that first cigarette, that first tipple of Scotch -- initial disgust soon gave way to pure enjoyment. And enjoyment became an addiction. Now, most of us can't face getting out of bed without a soothing jolt of caffeine.

We start the coffee pot first thing in the morning, even before we brush our teeth. Even -- and this is saying a lot -- before we check our e-mail. And many of us swill it down all day long.
Coffee becomes particularly important to those of us who work at home. It loses much of its social aspect (what's the point of enjoying a coffee break if you're all alone?), but fetching more java gives us an opportunity to walk away from the computer for a few minutes. And that caffeine high keeps us going through the day. Without coffee, we'd never get any work done.

Is it a coincidence that coffee consumption is up at the same time that American productivity is at an all-time high? I don't think so.

So let's all sing praises for coffee, the natural stimulant. It may be bitter and costly and it may stain your clothes, but we desperately need it to keep going every day.

And it's bound to be better than fruit-flavored malt liquor.

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