How Caribou Coffee Ruined One of the Best Marketing Campaigns of the Year

I want to discuss one of my favorite, unsung marketing campaigns – Caribou Coffee packages.

I’m not the type of person prone to noticing packaging. Especially coffee. I don’t like coffee. I sometimes drink one of those coffee drinks that don’t taste like coffee – because plain coffee reminds me of what licking shoe soles must taste like.

Becky loves coffee, on the other hand. So on occasion, I pick it up at the store or get her a drink at the drive-thru.

Usually, the copy on the packaging tries to describe what the coffee tastes like – a perfectly reasonable, functional purpose for promotional copy.

Old Caribou Copy

Last February, Caribou had two new blends come out, Columbia and Traveller’s Roast. I was picking up a drink and lost track of time while reading the new copy. It wasn’t functional; it was poetry.

Caribou Traveler's Columbia Caribou


It took until July for me to notice any more new packages. It seems Caribou has extended the strategy to every blend on their shelves. Becky ordered while I browsed the coffee bags with the same intensity one reads cover copy on new books by favorite authors. (Click on the images to enlarge.)


Caribou French Roast Caribou blend Columbia Caribou Caribou Lacuna Caribou Costa Rica Caribou Mahogany

I love it. I LOVE IT. The short passages are evocative and create a tranquil feeling, the feeling one imagines should accompany a relaxing cup of coffee. The graphic designer also had fun incorporating the text into the design in creative ways. These aren’t simply packages, they’re little imagery generators and metaphor gifts. With the design, they are little works of art.

I’m serious!

It’s amazing that Caribou would be bold enough to take such a creative leap from ordinary, functional copy. And Becky had to say my name several times to snap me out of whatever mental journey I was on at the time. She had her coffee and was ready to go.

Despite some of the neatest marketing language I’ve seen this year, Caribou is doing their best to mess it up. Try to find any mention of the copy anywhere online and you will come up empty. Instead, you’ll likely find news articles about Caribou being sold to a German interest in December 2012 and subsequently shutting down 160 plus stores with almost no notice for the hundreds of people working there.

Funny thing is I wouldn’t have known about this problem if I had been able to simply find their new product copy anywhere online – like their web site, Facebook site, really poor LinkedIn site or Twitter feed.

Luckily, Caribou stores are more plentiful than Starbucks in the Twin Cities, and I live close to a couple to take some pics.

In short – if you are going to be bold enough to try out some amazing copy, and then expand it to all your products after a trial period, you need to have the guts to use it/promote it/give it the slightest nod in more than just one location.

I’m not addicted to your coffee, Caribou. I’m addicted to your copy, and I need my fix.

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