May 18, 2006

Unnecessarily Hybrid Products Review

Hybridity is all the rage to the point of becoming passe, particularly in my field. It's also getting out of control: as far as I understand it, "hybrid" used to refer to something that was a biological mixture, but now we've taken it over and there's cultural hybridity, hybridity as a discourse, as a method, as a way of knowing, as a way of not knowing, and as a surefire strategy for generating incomprehensible scholarship. I am no less guilty of this than anyone else, and possibly more than some.

Faculty Advisor: What exactly happened in this paper? You started off making this one argument, but then you got turned around and started contradicting yourself.

Graduate Student: Um, it's hybrid? Like, it's sort of saying that one thing, but then it's also kind of saying the opposite in places? So it's like a hybridity of form?

Faculty Advisor: That is so smart!

Hybridity holds, evidently, not just the hope for me finding a job someday until this academic fad too shall pass. Or for environmentally friendly transport, despite Prius marketing so brilliant that it has evidently enticed many people to forget their basic math skills so they can't figure out that their gas savings won't make up for the expense and weirdness of their car until they've owned it 20 years and everyone else will already be piloting ethanol-fueled hovercraft by that time anyway. No, the hybrid craze is also holding out the promise of a more, well, hybrid consumer experience: simultaneously more exciting and more weirdly mundane. I'm talking about product variants so weird that they shouldn't exist, but at the same time so humdrum that I can't imagine why they were worth sexing up in the first place.

It used to be that if you were the sort of person who would take a perfectly good cup of orange juice and dump some salsa into it, you were either desperate for attention or had no sense at all. Now, your moment in the product development spotlight has arrived.

I bring you: Coke Blak and Vanilla Mint Listerine.

Coke Blak:

Product Premise: People who drink caffeinated beverages have two very popular options: coffee and Coke. One is typically enjoyed in the morning, and the other in the afternoon, except by weirdos who drink Coke for breakfast.

Identified Market Problem: Between coffee and Coke, one is owned by the Coca-Cola company, and the other is not.

Hybridized Solution: Coke Blak is equal parts Coke and coffee. It is to be served cold, like Coke, and is mildly fizzy, like Coke that has been cut with something non-carbonated, and is mildly sweet.

Product Experience: Weird, but not as bad as one might think. I was terribly excited about this product when I read an article about it being test-marketed in Europe, but that was mostly bravado and I became slightly more faint-hearted when it appeared in the US. It tastes exactly like you'd think. In flavor, in mouth-feel, and in the strange bemusement it triggers, it is precisely what would have happened had I ever thought, on my own, to mix equal parts Coke and cold middle-of-the-road coffee.

How Gross Is It? On a scale of 1 to 10, it's about a 4. It's kinda gross, but it's not make-you-barf gross. And the grossness it does possess is almost entirely offset by an almost magical degree of humorousness. I'd drink it again, if only to encourage them.

Was This Really Necessary? Not at all. Seriously, dump half a cup of coffee into a can of Coke, and you've just made the exact thing at home. Of course, then you don't get to drink it really conspicuously and gross everyone out.

Vanilla Mint Listerine:

No, really, say those words again. Vanilla. Mint. Listerine.

Product Premise: Most people go through waxing and waning oral hygiene cycles, which peak approximately two weeks before and five minutes after a dental check-up. When the squeaky-clean-teeth craze hits, suddenly people need to consume irregular dental maintenance products, like gum stimulators and floss picks. And mouthwash. Because this is happening on a fad basis, people are susceptible to flashy, weird, and intimidating products, on the premise that the more punishing their last-minute oral hygiene binge is, the more the dentist will praise them.

Identified Market Problem: If you're going to use mouthwash, it's probably going to be Listerine, because they've got the biggest name and the most bullying advertising. So they're sitting pretty in their market position, except for one thing: everyone knows what Listerine tastes like. And it's bad.

Hybridized Solution: Everyone may hate Listerine, but everyone likes vanilla. People also like mint. Hence, they have taken a regular bottle of Listerine and added a flavoring compound intended to approximate the experience (although not really the flavor) of inhaling a concentrated dose of bourbon vanilla extract. I note, however, that it is impossible to tell anything else about it, because the new ingredient is merely listed on the bottle as "flavor."

Product Experience: Deeply disturbing. It hits you in waves. At first swig, I thought, "My god, this is incredibly delicious Listerine!" and then was quietly shocked that I had thought such a sentence. However, as I swished and gargled for the prescribed 30 seconds, I realized that I had merely been prepared to think, "My god, this is incredibly delicious Listerine!" because I was so excited about the vanilla. 30 seconds with this stuff in your mouth is enough to confirm that there's not much vanilla about it. It definitely tastes like Listerine, with an added hint of what you get if you position one nostril carefully over the mouth of a bottle of vanilla extract and whiff up all the alcohol, plus a touch of -- what could it be? -- housepaint? With an added touch of sickly sweetness and that weird Listerine foamy thing. And I'm not sure how hybrid this really was, because there was no hint of mint about it whatsoever. I was fascinated by it, but I could not wait to spit it out.

And then the magic happened. It became amazingly delicious as soon as it left my mouth. Minimal lingering Listerine taste. Mostly a delicious suffusion of the feeling and flavor of having just had a big mouthful of artificial-vanilla-flavored sugar donut or frosting or ice cream or something. Plus a little excitingly tingly.

How Gross Is It? That's the thing. It's totally, totally gross. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's an 8. While I was swishing, I was making a mental note to send in the $2 rebate thing just so I could spitefully get back part of my money. But after 30 seconds of gross, it's amazing.

Was This Really Necessary? Oh yes. I hate mouthwash. I hate Listerine. But because I am preparing to make a dentist appointment and am therefore at a vulnerable point on my Dental Hygiene Cycle, I am prepared to go totally overboard and go gargle with this stuff again, just because of its bizarre ability to go from Gross to Sugar Donut in 30 seconds. This is brilliant!

What's Next:
I don't know, but I'm hoping for Vanilla Coke Listerine. Equal parts Listerine and Vanilla Coke. That way I get my clean teeth, my caffeine, and my gratuituous vanilla, all within 30 seconds in the bathroom.

Posted by katie at May 18, 2006 12:35 AM | TrackBack

Hybridity of paper arguments is an absolutely brilliant tactic which I'd never thought of before. I don't know whether to thank you or curse you for giving me an excuse to bullshit.

These things are... terrible. They're just conceptually all wrong. Um. My god. I suspect that the person responsible for Vanilla Mint Listerine may have also had a hand in the product design for the Country Fresh Raid Ant & Roach Killer that I have, and I think whoever that person is, he or she should be punished.

Posted by: Dianna at May 18, 2006 09:47 PM

Anyone who thinks that "Country Fresh" goes with a product aimed at eliminating ants has clearly never been in the country.

Posted by: katie at May 19, 2006 04:12 PM

Right! Or, for that matter, that Fresh is really the sort of scent that one finds in the country. The enticing language on this product inexplicably fails to mention the astounding number of kinds of poop which are available for smelling outside the borders of your local metropolitan area.

Posted by: Dianna at May 19, 2006 04:19 PM