When I used to have a lot more time to spend at coffee shops, one of my favorite New Orleans cafés was Rue de la Course on Magazine St. (At the time, it was in that big space on the river side of the street.) As I recall, it had high walls, a pressed-tin ceiling, and lazy overhead fans. The outdoor seating was a wonderful spot for people watching, and the overall vibe was relaxed and casual. It was a great place for reading, studying, or meeting friends.
At some point, this Rue de la Course location lost its lease, and it ended up moving across the street into a decent but somewhat inferior space. The original location became another coffee shop by the name of Puccino’s.
Puccino’s tagline was “The Real Coffee of Italy.” This coffee shop took the phrase to heart and gussied itself up in a overbearing Italian shtick. There were murals of Old World mustachioed men in fedoras drinking espresso. Dean Martin sang “Volaré” on the speakers, and garish colors assaulted you from everywhere. Everything yelled, “We’re Italian!,” or at least a derivative version of what Italy might be imagined to be like.
The place was frequently empty and didn’t last long. Compared to the relaxed vibe of the previous occupant, I couldn’t stomach going there. (It’s now the Rum House, where I can stomach going.) In my mind, Puccino’s was a victim to what I call “overbranding.” I’m not sure if this is a word that others use, but my meaning should be pretty clear. Puccino’s was desperate to be an experience—a brand—not just a coffee shop. The idea may have sounded good in a marketing meeting or as the Unique Selling Proposition in a business plan. But the place was trying so hard that it felt contrived and inauthentic.
I consider it overbranding when a bottle cap bothers you with a cutesy, under-the-cap saying on it or when a hotel chain affixes a poster on the inside of an elevator door. I see it everywhere.
Certainly, it’s important for a company to develop a brand identity. And I also think a company should be creative with how and where it disseminates its core message. But consumers need some space to get themselves to the same level as the message. When it’s shouting at them in the face, like at Puccino’s, the only thing a rational person can do is stay away.
Image source. Used under Creative Commons license.