Thu Oct 13th 2011

When Consumers Lie

According to statistics from the National Coffee Association, Women indicate that drinking coffee is a good way to relax. Men indicate that coffee helps them get the job done.

Neither of these are true. But don’t blame the NCA for the falsehood, blame the people they asked. They are the culprits. They are Americans. And they are lying. But not on purpose. No. They lie because they don’t know the real reasons they drink coffee.

Advances in science and market research teach us that when people are surveyed, by and large their responses about what motivates them do not tell the whole truth. And, although we have trouble accepting it as truth, most of our behavior as conscious human beings is the result of unconscious mental activity. Which by itself is a reasonable assertion. But it’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is that our conscious mind is forbidden to access the workings of the unconscious mind. The two simply do not interact. If they did, we would never be able to make a decision. There’s a mountain of science to corroborate this. But not here. Not now.

Since we don’t have conscious access to what really drives our behavior, we make up stories that justify our actions. Thus, the keys to good marketing aren’t found in what people say, but what they aren’t saying, because they can’t access that which motivates them. It is ingrained, unavailable information.

Take heart, however. Because according to research by anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille, one need look no further than to people’s memories to discover most of what motivates them as sentient adults. He presented the following scenario to Folger’s after interviewing several people about their coffee memories. The pattern was clear. And the true meaning of coffee was revealed.

In America, the smell of coffee fills our homes as children while our mothers are busy making sure we’re fed and cared for. And, for the rest of our lives we associate the coffee aroma with “childhood sensations of cozy domesticity.” The smell of coffee = Mother. The liquid in the pot = Home. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that our sense of smell makes our final judgement on coffee. Or why women would say, “It’s a good way to relax.” (How relaxing is it to have Mom taking care of you?) Or why men would say, “It helps me get the job done.” (What boy doesn’t want to finish the task and make Mom proud?)

Folger’s took Rapaille’s insight and ran with it. Today, they enjoy the lion’s share of household coffee sales, which is twice that of their closest competitor Maxwell House. And, its safe to say that their success in winning over Americans hinges on their understanding that coffee isn’t a warm, brown, stimulating beverage. Rather, it’s a cup full of happy childhood memories, every time.