Melitta man

If you know German advertising, you’ll be familiar with the long-running campaign for the coffee brand Melitta. The slogan “Melitta macht Kaffee zum Genuss” (literally “Melitta makes coffee an indulgence”) has little to do with the content of the TV ads though. For years it’s shown a young father with his son, who regularly shirks his homework and brings back bad grades from school. Also central to the plot: the family dog.

Now, I see this as an interesting reflection of German society. In fact this ad would have been unthinkable here even 15 years ago. Why? Because it never features a woman. Yes, the days of gender roles have gone. Germany has moved on. The kitchen and coffee-making has been discovered by men.

The same applies to some other brands here, most notably Iglo (a Unilever brand comparable with Bird’s Eye in the UK). In its ads they had a homosexual couple for a long time sharing recipes and the task of cooking. Interestingly, they were noticeably “un-camp” so many Germans may not actually have noticed they were supposed to be gay.

Recently Melitta has moved on. And shock, horror: they’re back to the traditional approach. No more divorced/single Dad and son plus token dog. Maybe they thought they should appeal more to families and women. To see their ads, go here (page has been removed).

This example raises a fundamental marketing issue. Can advertising shape society, or is it merely a reflection of the way society is shaping up anyway? Should product managers change people, to get them to buy more products? Or do customers buy more products when product managers correctly identify how they have changed, holding a mirror up to them to say, “This is you, so here are your products”?

I think it’s the latter, though I would welcome debate on this one. Advertising in the 70s and 80s (and partway into the 90s) was so sexist and full of clichés precisely because if you showed something different from what people knew and understood, they would have shrugged their shoulders and been confused. And would probably not have bought your product.

In any case, I don’t buy Melitta. Although that man was a very close reflection of me for a while. But then again I don’t drink any coffee.

Alex Woodruff

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One response to “Melitta man

  1. Off the top of my head I am not sure that you can really pinpoint whether advertising is shaping society or if it is reflecting society .

    Maybe it is as with many things in business: it depends… it depends on the society in question, their media receptiveness, their general adherence to conservative, traditional values etc.

    In reality however it is probably a bit of both. Advertising is usually (or should be) well ahead of time to identify trends. They then, if they get it right, make products that will ride this trend. Thus they are not the originators of the change/shaping but merely enforce its magnitude and quicken its development.
    So they are not the originators but without them the trend would have not had such an effect on society as it had, making them multiplicators and mirrors at the same time.

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