From cafes in Albinia to Google’s “Dear Sophie”: customer bio-narratives

Two cafes in Albinia

Illy promotional image

Last weekend I was at the sea side with my family, at Albinia, a small village by the sea in Tuscany. It is the main and almost only street in Albinia, there are two cafes where people go to have breakfast – Italian breakfast, which means a coffee or cappuccino and for some a pastry.

I had just been at a seminar on storytelling and marketing by Andrea Fontana, where we also discussed the importance of finding the desired bio-narrative of the potential customers – actually would be right to call them readers. In this seminar we went through some examples of brands and their narrative – one example was Illy, the well-known coffee producer, whose market metaphors are often along the seductive line.

So I went experimental and checked the two cafes in Albinia: what was their message? And what effect this has on their public?
Well’, one café is branded by Illy, and its public is made of people obviously interested in seduction and exploration, by their age, dress and social behavior. Design and art are themes emotionally linked to seduction, and are both components of Illy’s marketing. The other café, not using Illy coffee, is inhabited by older specimen more interested in discussing football than social seduction.

I was quite surprised by the uniformity of the customers, how perfectly they do fit the seduction story . Italians on average give an awful amount of attention to dressing (maybe that’s why there is so little attention to anything else), but the guys at the Illy café where even smarter looking. And the place had no exceptions.

Two older women that came to the Illy, they were the kind no longer that young but desperately trying to look so. Had probably the most expensive clothing and bags, well tanned, and they kept checking around for incoming looks. “I want to remain in this story – don’t throw me out”.

Narratively, people going to Illy café tell themselves that that is the place to go in Albinia to proceed with their self narrative. Clothing, habits, and cafes must fit in a story. And it may even work in practice, as they will meet people in the dynamic of seducing and being seduced. But this is not what they will tell you if you ask them why they go there: they will tell you that the coffee and pastries taste better, and that is the reason for going there. This for those who believe that asking customers opinions is a help in building brands: people’s biographies “know” reasons very well – people don’t.

What some companies do is get Illy’s coffee while telling the wrong story. Getting Illy would be a useless effort for the customers of the second café – use less expensive coffee and be coherent with another story. Alternatives are reassuring stories, stories of health, of caring. You have to understand the biographical moment of the target reader.

Expanding the reach of Google Chrome

Google Chrome ad

Look at the recently released Google Chrome ad Dear Sophie. Here Google has the problem of having conquered part of the explorative market segment, by establishing a technical legend about the speed of its Chrome browser (another myth, as no user actually checks the details), but Chrome is not used in other segments. What they target with the Dear Sophie ad is the caring segment, users whose basic values are “taking care”. There are several hooks for this kind of reader, starting from the theme, growing a kid. And them:

– A romantic reassuring melody.

– Lightly teasing the kids mother from the father “this was mother’s idea” – classical, solid family that is capable of self-referential humor.

– A relatively long piece on “The Hospital”: the central emotional aspect of the ad is the caring model, and here they create a few seconds of anxiety – they also print in big fonts “Helpless”. The problem is quickly resolved, the kid is fine, celebrating her birthday, but the hospital/helpless quote helps keeping the attention.

– Use of very basic web technology. In fact there is no real technical reason for doing what is shown in the Chrome browser and not say in Firefox. In fact the ad makes no single real argument in favor of Chrome – but it’s not important.

– Kid loves the father, writes him nice notes for father day. This is a promise of happiness for the father that introduces Chrome as a family tool – yes it sounds ridiculous but unconscious promotional messages don’t need to make sense. The father is the real target of the ad, the child is the mediator; the father is the one choosing the browser in such family.

– The video respects the three-part story of every journey – with the finale being that it alludes to the kid being grown up and happy sharing memories with the father. Of course the truth will be a resulting teen ager ranting about the father caring more about the PC than the kids, but again, truth is irrelevant in this kind of marketing.

In the You Tube comments I see “this made me cry too”. Hitting caring, emotional public. This is a very well done ad, with no relation to truth, science, improving anything, and to a critical mind testifies that the efforts to maintain the slogan of “don’t be evil” (another myth) have become secondary.

Consumer’ dynamics and possible rhetoric

Here are some themes that may be applied in creating and analyzing ads:

Theme rhetoric

(This table is translated from Story Selling – a marketing guide in Italian.)

One Response to “From cafes in Albinia to Google’s “Dear Sophie”: customer bio-narratives”
  1. Read here how effective the Chrome ad is being – shows the effectiveness of simple storytelling techniques:

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