Sunday, 22 September 2013

Super Size Me ! I'm a retro brand

Don't tell anyone  - but I am on a diet.  It is working (currently), I've shed lots of kilos, but clearly I was so fat that only one person has commented on the 7 kg loss.  The diet involves eating tiny portions, limiting really bad food (anything with sugar or fat really) and avoiding snacking.  Soon I will need to up my exercise as the easy first 10 Kgs will have come off & my aggressive target for Easter 2014 sees weekly steps of 1.5kg.  Therefore I have developed a very different relationship with food, as you might imagine.  
Justin O'Brien MBA Director at Royal Holloway

One of my more diplomatic colleagues, when notifying me of free food offers (over ordering at lunchtime events) puts it thus "You look like a man who enjoys his food ?".  Cabin crew use a different tack, "Have you got your seat belt on sir ?", as clearly they can't see any sign of the belt underneath my stomach.  Embarrassing, but true.  Other euphemisms include "You look well !" (either 'you've got fatter' or sotto voce - 'he's still not lost any weight'..).  I'm hoping to experience some positive reinforcement that I've lost weight.  But I'm not sure with all this photo shopping and over awareness of body image that necessarily celebrating getting thin is politically correct either.  The good news is that with my current trousers I am at a tipping point.  Belts, formerly used to pull stomach blubber in, are now not necessary.  Shortly they will become en vogue again, but this time to keep flappy wasted numbers from dropping down below my knees.

Whilst out with some MBA alumni last year I met a guy who was the call centre voice behind a slimming company.  Well, a man, a desk and a phone.  More start up.  He claimed (but it was his pitch....) that the only genuinely effective motivator for weight loss was money.  Thus he signed contracts with overweight people such as myself, offering them cash rewards if they hit their target weights, based on a monthly subscription model.  If you lost weight, the reward payments were significantly more than the subscription dues.  Easy money you'd think ?  But so many people failed this was an attractive betting scheme, where the house or market maker always won.  Worrying that even with hard cash on the table, not the community feel good factor you can get from Weight Watchers meetings or the natural endorphin release you might luxuriate in after a Rosemary Connolly fitness class, lots of people were continuing to fail.  I was convinced money would work for me.

I'm pretty careful with my money (I have an academic salary, remember, the only six digit number I am familiar with is the mortgage) and didn't like the idea of giving away money to an outsider.  So I decided to set up a bet with my wife, after all it's meant to be "our money", so I couldn't lose.  She liked the idea - so we have matching bets and if I lose a third of my body weight, I'll stand to win £1,000.  Not nearly enough to fund the new clothes I'll need (I might even see my feet shrink back to size 9 & have to buy shoes too !) but, the kind of firm, clear target I need to make this life changing transformation. 

Clever Retro Twist or Super Sized Calories ?

Thus I was horrified the other day at Costa coffee (cappuccino's are 200 calories, but so much more pleasurable than a practically nothing flat black Americano,........ I called this 'lunch') to note that the super sized Custard Cream biscuits my older son loves to buy are over 400 calories.  In response to the obesity lobby that targeted McDonald's in a big way, many 'responsible' purveyors of fast food and coffee bars now share calorific information.  400 Calories is nearly as much as a big Mac (580ish ?).  Now, that's an easy call....take the burger every time. 

Now, Costa (which sometimes claims that it's Britain's favourite coffee bar) is innovative in looking for ways to 'delight' their customers and differentiate themselves from the mighty global Starbucks.  Both brands revere the coffee bean and find different ways to put this single minded focus across to customers in their servicescape.  Starbucks uses the form and colour palette of the raw and processed bean to inspire its yellow, green and brown interior d├ęcor.  It also looks to educate it's consumers with collections of different beans (as you may have seen half a century ago), connect ethically with the coffee farmers and provide expert home manufacturing paraphernalia.  So clever, you may miss it.  Recently they have launched a small discount for reusing their branded cups.  Check it out next time you are there. 

Costa permeates a more human feel, with images of coffee beans and drinking, but also the idea of Italian style with the effective use of black and white photos.  Costa offers hot Panini, where as Starbucks banned unpleasant burnt cheese aromas because, whilst highly profitable, it masked the alluring and authentic smell of the core proposition.  [coffee init]. I prefer the taste of the Starbucks coffee blend and the fond ski holiday associations of drinking java in Seattle, the green mermaids home.  Unfortunately, my wife hates the tea there (& doesn't do coffee), thus our family outings on the weekend to a coffee shop are to Costa, which is now a firm favourite with both our boys.  Lucky we now have a Starbucks franchise on campus !

Costa offer clever sweet snacks (as well as hot, smelly sandwiches) that includes giant sized custard cream and chocolate bourbon biscuits.  Stuff if you are a forty something like me harks back to childhood, before all these clever new fangled offerings like Hobnobs and back in the day when chocolate coatings were a luxury and considered expensive.  So a clever twist, not a presented regular size on a white plate, or even paired up in plastic wrapping, but super charged and enormous - nearly the size of a sandwich.  They say nothing is new in marketing, it's just about finding ways to recombine existing ideas.  Clever.

Brilliant case in point, until you understand that this biscuit has the energy value of a small meal.