A reader named Richard e-mailed me about the new energy drink “Cocaine.” He did this when it was still quite topical, but I’ve bee..." />
MaxBarry.com
no relation

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 14
Nov
2006

The Intelligent Customer

Syrup Don't freak out! Don't freak out!A reader named Richard e-mailed me about the new energy drink “Cocaine.” He did this when it was still quite topical, but I’ve been falling behind on my e-mail again, so I only just found out. In a few weeks time I’m planning to find out how those mid-term elections are shaping up.

Anyway, my thought today isn’t about Cocaine specifically, because everything about that product turns out to be exactly as you’d expect:

  • The inventor came up with the name at 1 a.m.
  • The name offended a bunch of people, who complained, which generated a lot of publicity, which helped sales
  • It’s anyone’s guess what it tastes like, because the articles about it and even the product’s own website consider that an irrelevant side detail

The complaints, of course, were that the product glamorizes and legitimizes the illegal drug cocaine. Just as obviously, the manufacturers were shocked that anyone could imply there was some kind of connection between the drug cocaine and their product, Cocaine. They wrote:

Well, we think that kids today are neither ignorant, nor uninformed. As a matter of fact, we think that you are the brightest and most informed generation in the history of the world. How else would you be able to navigate your way to our MySpace?

I was intrigued by how impressed these guys are with their customers. I mean, they really think they’re clever. That seemed like an odd conclusion to reach about people who buy sodas just because they have a funny name. And it occurred to me that whenever I hear a company telling their customers how smart they are, it seems they’re selling a stupid product.

Take cigarettes. I’m not saying you have to be stupid to smoke. But it certainly helps if you have a poorly developed ability to anticipate logical consequences. Yet it’s hard to find an industry more deeply moved by their customers’ intellectual powers than tobacco. If you ask Altria,* smokers aren’t just customers, they’re proud warriors for freedom of choice, fighting against nanny-government interference in our personal lives. In fact, you probably don’t realize it, but many people smoke even though they hate it, just to express their refusal to bow to the military-industrial complex.

Similar, sometimes companies implore you to “make up your own mind.” Their argument seems to be that if you’re smart, you’ll ignore the overwhelming body of evidence that says their product is dangerous, and instead reach an independent conclusion based on their promotional web site.

To test the apparent correlation between how smart companies tell you they think you are and how stupid their product is, I plugged the phrase “our customers are intelligent” into Google and noted the top product categories to come up. If companies tended to say that because they really did have smart customers, you might expect to see telescopes and pocket protectors. If, on the other hand, companies tended to tell their customers they were smart as a piece of transparent marketing, you might see:

  1. Shoes
  2. Diamond engagement rings
  3. Domain name hosting
  4. Web site design

…which is what came up. That seems about right to me: two products that are sold for an order of magnitude more than they cost to manufacture, a service that offers the exact same thing as two thousand other companies, and a web site design company that claims, “When Microsoft begged us to help them with their website we were far too busy with other projects and had to turn them down.” Although, to be fair, companies offering domain name hosting and web site design come up no matter what you put into Google. They’re just part of the landscape, like insects, or Paris Hilton.

(* “Altria” used to be called Phillip Morris. According to its web site, the company changed its name “to better clarify its identity as the owner of food and tobacco companies that manage some of the world’s most successful brands.” That’s good to know. I’d thought they did it just so people wouldn’t realize they were the same pack of lying, murderous bastards.)

Comments

This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 3786 days ago

You know, it's funny; over here in Germany, the BILD daily tabloid once used the slogan "BILD dir deine Meinung!" / "Make up your own mind!". Of course everyone knows that the BILD is full of half-truths and filthy plain-out lies: "The journalistic standards of Bild, or the lack thereof, are the subject of frequent criticism by German intellectuals and media observers" (wikipedia).

Sadly, the BILD is the best-selling newspaper in Europe.

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 3786 days ago

Max, you won't believe it! The democrats took control of both houses of congress! Rumsfeld resigned! World peace is upon and marketers have been taken out behind the chemical shed and shot! Ok, kidding about the last part, but seriously, I'd have thought that the aussies would be in the streets partying over the democratic takeover.

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 3786 days ago

I love the fact that the website "Make Up Your Own Mind" doesn't let me in if it doesn't think that I have Flash installed! Make up your own mind? More like watch the corporate masses laughing all the way to the bank. Or something.

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 3786 days ago

Hmm Cocaine. Yeah the last product you talked about, Blak, sucked ass so I am going to assume this one will too. lol but maybe the taste is so awful I have to make up my own mind to decide whether it's good or not. Much like cigarettes I guess.

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 3786 days ago

I can't wait for Max' Borat review next month.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3785 days ago

Tuesday November 14th, 2006

WHERE'S THE SHAMPOO?

My roomate was taking a nap this afternoon. It was a nice day. All was well...or so he thought. Shortly after he began to enjoy his much needed rest. Someone mysterious. Someone very very sneaky crept into the room. Almost completely unnoticed. My roomate heard the door open, but just assumed it was nothing and went back to sleep. But it was something or someone. Why did they sneak into the room? For what reason? The reason was unclear until my roomate was preparing for his shower just before going to bed. He looked in the closet. He found only a nicely folded towel next to a bottle of body wash and a wash cloth. Something was missing....but what you may ask? My roomate's most prized possession. No. Not his money. Not his nice laptop computer. Not his expensive golf clubs. Not his nice business suit. Not even his flat screen TV, microwave, or DVD collection....nothing other than his slightly used, nearly full bottle of Herbal Essences.
What kind of country do we live in, where you can't even enjoy a nap on a nice fall day without having to worry about having your slightly used, nearly full bottle of Herbal Essences stolen?!

-adam speicher

Colette (#324)

Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Quote: ""The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy" -- Kurt Vonnegut"
Posted: 3785 days ago

I wonder when Crack and Heroin are going to hit the market.

...and will they be Coca-Cola or Pepsi products?

Shawna (#2485)

Location: San Francisco, CA
Quote: ""She is a child of ferocious will. She would question the universe if it could answer." - Anon"
Posted: 3785 days ago

I kind of love you. That post was wonderous.

"I’m not saying you have to be stupid to smoke. But it certainly helps if you have a poorly developed ability to anticipate logical consequences."

So true, so true.

Jack (#2443)

Location: Australia, Bendigo
Posted: 3785 days ago

Max, you are certainly a man among men.. did I mention a great man? I havent been able to get my hands on any of your books yet, but I read your website anyway, just for the sheer greatness of it. Haha.. I loved that jab at smokers.

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 3785 days ago

You know, the astonishing thing about Big Tobacco is not that they sell an addictive, deadly product, but that they did it for a century without paying out a single out of court settlement for damages. If you sued me for a hangnail I didn't cause from half a world away, you'd have better odds of winning than someone with 1/3 or a lung left and 14 kinds of cancer and 86 studies showing all those cancers are solely caused by tobacco.

Jessa (#1787)

Posted: 3785 days ago

Wait, "Altria"? Are we really supposed to believe that a tobacco company is altruistic?

Jason Wallwork (#675)

Location: Peterborough, Canada
Quote: "If it ain't broke you're not trying hard enough."
Posted: 3785 days ago

Sure it's all funny to these guys until some Columbian company sues them for trademark infrigement. We'll see who's laughing then.

Jason Wallwork (#675)

Location: Peterborough, Canada
Quote: "If it ain't broke you're not trying hard enough."
Posted: 3785 days ago

Just checked their website and noticed that they don't seem to "get" what kids are:

- This beverage should be consumed by responsible adults. Failure to adhere to this warning may result in excess excitement, stamina, fun and possible feeling of euphoria.

(on their Warning page)

Could be a good thing out of this though. Maybe kids will mistake this drink for the real thing. OK, they're probably not that stupid, either.

Mike Reason (#2743)

Location: Rhode Island, USA
Quote: ""Carpe Diem!""
Posted: 3784 days ago

I'm not going to say all people in this day and age know that smoking is bad for them. Statistically, there has to be a couple of morons out there that thinks sucking down marlboros like they are the breath of life and honestly believe there will be no negative consequences. But now-a-days, virtually everyone knows that smoking is bad for them including people currently smoking. Those people would quit if it weren't highly addictive. That's why narcotics make so much money despite being destructive.

Machine Man subscriber fredzfrog (#2368)

Location: Moe
Quote: "Fredzfrog"
Posted: 3784 days ago

i just googled '"our customers are intelligent"'

max, your on page 2 of google! what are you trying to tell us? :P

SilverCloud (#2038)

Location: SANTA MONICA ,CA.U.S.A.
Quote: "Fortune Favors the Brave"
Posted: 3784 days ago

I must have been taking a nap when Phillip Morris was replaced by Altria...is that a homocorporation change?
Happy Trails ~.~

Kit (#850)

Location: UK
Posted: 3784 days ago

"I'm not going to say all people in this day and age know that smoking is bad for them. Statistically, there has to be a couple of morons out there that thinks sucking down marlboros like they are the breath of life and honestly believe there will be no negative consequences. But now-a-days, virtually everyone knows that smoking is bad for them including people currently smoking. Those people would quit if it weren't highly addictive. That's why narcotics make so much money despite being destructive. "

I think your wrong. Let's face it, smoking looks COOL! (sarcasm)

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 3784 days ago

Um...yeah. WHo is making Cocaine? I wouldn't be surprised if it was pepsi, because that's what they do: make stupid names to compete with Coke. Wouldn't you think Coke would like the name? I mean, yeah.

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 3779 days ago

Austin, if Cocaine were a Pepsi product, chances are someone in their organisation tried to sell it to Coke and was rejected already.

The funny thing is that on Nation States I had the classic "Eckie Cola" issue again today...

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 3764 days ago

I foresee these events:

1. The soda Cocaine will turn out to contain cocaine.

2. That information, it will be revealed, had been on the cans all along.

3. The company's defence will go as follows: "Well, what did you expect? It's ****ing CALLED Cocaine!"

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 3761 days ago

On a related note, I saw an ad for a fragrance called Opium the other week.

joseph stanga (#2874)

Location: wichita KS
Quote: "the only thing we have to fear is another catchy slogan"
Posted: 3730 days ago

speaking of philip morris switching things up, did anyone notice that they also changed their crest? it used to have "veni, vidi, vici" ( i came, i saw, i conquered) emblazoned on it's crest. now it's gone. personally, i feel like they sold out, even if it IS a harmful and immoral product. that one little bit of latin is probably all the foreign language education some people are going to get- ever! the least they coulda done is changed it to something more innocuous, like "c'est la vie!"

Comments are now closed for this post.

Built on Blosxom