Coolers & Colonoscopies

Comparing and contrasting the instructions on a bottle of purgative and a bottle of alcoholic cooler.


Serve chilled.  Drink cold.

Two beverages; two instructions; two distinct communication styles.

The first seems to assume a social gathering: Serve chilled.  Reminiscent of trendy menus—Gazpacho, chilled to perfection—it speaks with a slightly snooty air.  Its message seems to be this: You can enjoy this beverage at any temperature, but chilling it unleashes its true potential.

The second seems to assume a medicinal purpose: Drink cold.  Reminiscent of plain-language instructions for medications—Take with food—it speaks with an understated air.  Its message seems to be this: You won’t like it no matter how you take it, but drinking it cold will be less nasty.  

Serve chilled.  Drink cold.

Two beverages; two instructions; and just one skill-testing question: Which instruction appears on the vodka cooler and which on the colonoscopy purgative? 

Against all reasonable expectation, each product plays against type.

It is the purgative bottle coyly telling me to serve its contents ‘chilled’: the same word used to describe the correct temperature for enjoying white wines.  And doesn’t ‘serve’ evoke hospitality of some sort?  I shake my head to clear it.  At what social event might I—or, indeed, anyone—‘serve’ this product?

On the other hand, it is the vodka cooler bottle flatly telling me to drink its contents ‘cold’: the same word used to describe the temperature at which to store food to prevent spoiling, not the temperature at which to enjoy it.  And as an instruction, doesn’t ‘drink’ evoke a ‘hold your nose and swallow’ message?  Is someone in shock?  Here, drink this whiskey.  Is someone hiccuping endlessly?  Here, drink this water.  The point is efficacy, not enjoyment.

Serve chilled.

For the purgative, I’d say the marketers had gone wild except for one thing: no one buys purgative except on a doctor’s orders.  There can be no hope that a better presentation will increase sales.  After all, no one scans the pharmacy shelves on a whim for the nicest, most well-spoken bottle of purgative.  This is marketing communication gone not wild, but brainless.

Drink cold.

For the vodka cooler, on the other hand, the wording is meant to jar.  The communication undervalues the product; said another way, the product out-performs the communication.  More, the wording invites users to share a gentle joke: one that is at no one’s expense, really, but that pokes at excessive claims and flowery marketing-ese.  This is marketing communication gone not brainless, but sly.

Serve chilled.  Drink cold.

Two beverages; two ways of being in the world.

And what of us?  How shall we be in the world?  A little snooty, never quite living up to our billing, our label the best thing about us?  Or a little understated, always doing more or better than people expect, our contents a welcome surprise?

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4 Comments

  1. Marion

    Thanks for this Sunday morning chuckle. The concept of one serving the purgative is hilarious, unless we have a valet or maid assisting with our preparations … don’t want to think about that!
    But I will think of this each time I see “serve chilled” or “drink cold” on a beverage in the future. And thanks for that, too.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Marion – Well, I know that I’m hypersensitive to language, but it sure did seem ridiculous. Sometimes communicators just won’t spit it out. I know that from proposal work, of course, but am more dismayed to see it in people earning their living with words.

  2. Funny, clever, great diction, perfect metaphors, not overdone – brief, to the point.

    Just a thought – marketeers know their demographic and almost invariably try to communicate to it. So what’s that say about those who ingest vodka coolers and purgatives? I’ll let you ponder that.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Rod – A typically generous review! Thanks so much. As someone who has–from time to time–ingested both vodka coolers and purgatives (although never on the same day or even in the same week), I’ll take your thought and ponder it in my heart. It is certainly the case that some marketing is aimed not at the prospective buyer but at the already committed one.

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