SoBe's message: Buy our drink, you dweeb.

Advertising deconstructed.
Sept. 16 2002 1:36 PM

You're a Dweeb. Buy Our Drink.

SoBe's strange new tactic: marketing by mocking.

Ever heard of a drink called SoBe? Ever had one? Before you answer, you should know that what you say might just define your personal level of coolness. Or at least, that's what an ad for the drink wants you to think. See it here, via Ads.com.

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The ad: A soft young man, dressed in such an absurd headband and denim-vest ensemble that he must have just come from an audition for an 'N Sync tribute band, walks into a convenience store. At the beverage case, he opens a glass door and picks out a drink (a Snapple maybe?). Then a strapping, long-haired dude in an even more absurd get-up—perhaps he's just back from a Stryper tribute-band audition—strolls to the next case over and grabs a SoBe. "What's up, bro," this mysterious stranger says. "Drain a lizard." (SoBe's logo features stylized lizards; also, I'm told the phrase "drain the lizard" can be used as a euphemism for urination.) "Right," the dopey kid says, immediately deciding to act just like this really cool guy with the Fabio locks. The problem: Dopey follower-boy can't seem to get the SoBe case open. Then a babe walks up—and opens the case without a problem. "Hey," she says to the kid, casually snagging a SoBe. "Tastes great," she says. "Feels even better." The kid looks smitten and says something that sounds like a cross between "wow," "whoa," and "whaa." The babe departs, and the kid tries even harder to get the case open, but for him it won't budge. Another Cool Dude approaches and says: "I think you're trying too hard. So be yourself." He casually takes a SoBe and leaves. There's a quick transition to a full-screen shot of the SoBe logo and the "SoBe Yourself" slogan. Then we close on a shot of the kid, staring with impotent desire into the SoBe case that, for him, remains impregnable.

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WhatIs SoBe? SoBe is a brand of "healthy refreshments," according to the company's Web site. (An FAQ offers up a ton of addditional detail, such as how to pronounce the drink's name, how to tell what the flavors are, and where the phrase "Seize the Honus" comes from.) Basically, it's one of those drinks that spreads a vague promise of healthiness across a wide range of beverage product variations, from souped-up teas to "energy drinks." SoBe sponsors a lot of extreme sports events and athletes. The name SoBe is apparently derived from the drink's creator, the South Beach Beverage Co., based not in Miami but in Connecticut, and that in any case is now owned by PepsiCo.

SoWhat? Obviously this ad is not overtly pushing any "health" benefits; it's pushing the mysterious power of SoBe's image. Positioning a product as too cool for most people to "get" is not a new trick, but "Ad Report Card" reader Phil N. is on to something when he summarizes SoBe's version of the gambit as: "Some people are simply not cool enough for our product, and never will be: We dare you to try to buy SoBe, you can find out which camp you fall into. ..."

The more conventional way to end the ad would have been for the loser kid to follow the "be yourself" advice and discover that, by dropping the wannabe pose, he can acquire and enjoy the trendy beverage. What's weird about the ad is that it concludes on a note of hopelessness: He'll just never get it. Basically, SoBe has pushed the notion of hip exclusivity to its logical conclusion—the product whose very existence mocks the fundamental and unchangeable inadequacies of those who wish to consume it. The result is marketing by taunt.

This is particularly amusing because SoBe is, obviously, a product whose most salient characteristic is phoniness. It's not a small, outsider company; it's part of a huge beverage conglomerate. The health benefits are a gimmick. It's not hard to find; it's aggressively distributed and heavily advertised. SoBe doesn't want you to "be yourself." It wants you to be a different kind of phony—the SoBe kind. What all this means is that the ad really only works on exactly the kind of people it's pretending to make fun of.

Rob Walker is a columnist for Yahoo Tech, a contributor to Design Observer and the New York Times, and the author of Buying In.