Last night, on the evening news, I saw a story about Starbucks Coffee. Specifically, they reported that the supply of Pumpkin-Spice syrup is running short. The syrup is used to make a wildly popular coffee drink available at Starbucks only during the autumn months. Sound familiar? Upon hearing the story, I thought to myself, “Pliny the Latte.”
Was there really a shortage of Pumpkin-Spice syrup? We’ll never know. It really doesn’t matter. Starbucks achieved its goal. The news was talking about the shortage, which they claimed was created by overwhelming customer demand for Pliny the Latte.
By now, everyone who likes to drink good beer is familiar with the Pliny phenomenon. No doubt, Pliny the Anything is a damn good beer. I do not want to talk about the merits of the beer; I want to talk about the marketing methodology that I refer to as the Pliny Strategy. I am not suggesting that the nice people at Russian River started this whole thing. All they did was brew a couple of damn good beers. In this particular instance, it is a strategy most likely started by distributors and perpetuated by consumers. Yep. It is our fault.
Sometimes I think we are just stupid human cattle. I am as guilty as anyone. Something is good because someone says it is good. If there is a line, we should be in it. I cannot explain why, but for some reason it makes me think of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The more difficult it is to acquire, the better it must be. It is good simply because it is good.
Like I said, Pliny the Anything is a damn good beer, but it will not stop your hair from falling out. It will not bring your dog back to life, you will not attain spiritual enlightenment by drinking it, and it does not make you any smarter or more sophisticated than anyone else.
I am so sick of people asking me (the presumed smart-guy expert), “So what do you think is the best IPA?”
It is a one-way conversation. They do not care what answer I give. Usually, they aren’t even listening and I could tell them that Elysian Brewing’s Perseus Porter is my favorite IPA, or that I prefer orange juice over beer, and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash. All they want to do is tell me, “I think Pliny the Younger is the best IPA.”
Well, la-dee-fricken-da. Congradu-fricken-lations. They’ve actually had Pliny the Younger. That’s all they really wanted to tell me. And they always have to tell me how long they waited, how far they traveled, and how much they paid to drink it. Drives me crazy.
Another example of the Pliny Strategy. There is a Thai food restaurant in our neighborhood, considered by many to be the best in the city. The more popular it gets, the more popular it gets. It’s a snowball. The food is the same as it was five years ago, but that snowball just keeps rolling. On a Friday night, if you call to place an order you will discover that they are not even bothering to answer the phone: not a busy signal, but a message telling you that they are unavailable.
In addition to the restaurant being packed to the rafters, at any given moment there are as many as 20 people standing around waiting for their orders. Since the restaurant no longer answers the phone, you must place your order in person and then wait. The last I heard, wait-times ranged from 50 – 60 minutes.
You might think they’re crazy, but the crowd waits patiently for their orders of Pliny the Thai Food. Sure, the food is good, but more importantly they can now stand around the water cooler on Monday and tell stories about how long they waited and how good the food was. Somehow, Pliny the Thai food made them better, smarter and more sophisticated than their coworkers.
I am not simply ranting. Well, maybe I am. My point is simple: whether it is by accident or design, this is a brilliant marketing strategy. We are sheep. Just tell us where to go and what to think. Now that I’ve mentioned it to you, I hope you realize when you are buying into the hype. I’m not saying it should stop you from waiting in line for an hour just to drink a five-ounce pour of Pliny the Younger, I’m just saying you should acknowledge the reality of the situation.
Because I don’t want to be stoned to death or banished-forever from the beer community, I must reiterate that I think Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder are both damn good beers. It’s the hype that I hate.