Ad Rant: Let's get real about the chocolate coffee wars

The chocolate drink in the new ad for Caribou Coffee looks mighty yummy. It's piled high with whipped cream and studded with chocolate shavings. In Caribou's "Get Real: Chocolate" ad, a pair of obnoxious marionettes sitting on a bench in a mall, wonder why they never get to drink anything as tasty as that Caribou mocha.

"Because we're not real," says the annoying male marionette to the annoying female marionette.


Caribou could have saved tons of money just by showing the drink in close-up with a lens filter as flattering as any used on Greta Garbo. They didn't need the marionettes and a reference to Starbucks so obscure that almost no one will get it.

Instead, the ad uses a tortured visual metaphor that distracts the viewer from drooling over the drink to puzzling over the ad's logic, which is as twisted as the strings of a marionette. (Actually, these marionettes don't have any visible strings, making it even more ... weird.)

You see, the marionettes are supposed to represent snobs. What snobs are doing at the mall is beyond me. Don't they have fabulous beachfront houses somewhere? The coffee cups by their sides have round, green logos that suggest Starbucks -- even though there's not a coffee snob alive who doesn't call the stuff "Charbucks."

When the snobs notice the Caribou drink, they desire it. So why can't they buy one? Don't snobs just take what they want and immediately adjust their rationale to fit? If their snobbery makes them drink inferior brands of coffee, then they're not really snobs. Fools, maybe.

But wait. The snobby guy marionette says that the reason they can't have the clearly superior drink is because "we're not real." So ... they aren't coffee snobs? They're phantoms? If snobbery means you're not "real," then why is Caribou playing the snob card, too, by declaring that its chocolate coffee drinks are superior?

I'm so confused.

Let's get back to why the Caribou drink is supposedly better than a similar offering at Starbucks. "Only Caribou coffee melts real pieces of Guittard chocolate into all of our hand-crafted chocolate drinks," explains the narrator.

You could take that to mean that Starbucks uses "fake" chocolate, not "real" chocolate. Actually, all they are saying is that "only Caribou" happens to use the brand of chocolate called Guittard -- which, though of a better quality than, say, Hershey's, ranks near the bottom of the world's quality chocolates, according to the blog Chocolate Note. It's still a good chocolate, but in what way is it more "real" than the stuff they use at Starbucks?

On the Starbucks Web site, I saw no evidence of any one brand of chocolate used across the board in their drinks. However, they make a big deal of their "Socially Responsible Cocoa Sourcing Program and Cocoa Practices." In other words, their brown chocolate is "green."

Speaking of "real," let's compare the nutritional value of these calorie bombs. Looks like Caribou's "Turtle Mocha" weighs in the heaviest, with 550 calories per "large" serving, of which 160 calories are fat. Their large Mocha is 450 calories, 170 of them fat. Over at Starbucks, the comparable "Venti Mocha" is a shade less fattening: 410 calories, 160 of them fat.

I guess it wouldn't do to advertise Caribou's chocolate coffee drinks as "More real, makes you fatter." I say, put down the brand-name weapons and stick with a close-up of the drink.
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