Have you ever noticed that advertising agencies seem to revert to our much-loved Australian cafes as a persuader to sell us their global products?
It doesn’t seem to matter what industry, the homey cafe is the backdrop for a plethora of adverts, cafe relevant or not. It seems as though it’s almost essential to have a cafe feature in many high end television and glossy adverts for many financial institutions, banks, or insurance companies alike.
Recruitment, car adverts and if there’s a headline on the news about jobs and the economy you can guarantee a shot of a cafe with a hipster barista extracting a shot or texturising milk, to somehow represent the story.
I think we can connect some of those dots.
For instance, everybody can relate to a cafe in a nation where coffee is the no1 beverage, and on almost every High Street from city to regional you can guarantee you’ll find a cafe, if not several cafes!
Maybe it’s aspirational, as I’m told everybody wants to own and run his or her own cafe.
This in itself defies belief, when you consider the stiff and real challenges faced in succeeding within a highly competitive market. In my experience, it rarely offers the dream lifestyle that people aspire to!
So, what’s the affiliation with the common day cafe?
I think to really appreciate and understand this we should delve into the prominence of the café, also spelt cafe, in our history; The first small eating and drinking establishment, better known as a ‘coffeehouse’, which usually featured a limited menu, was first said to have opened in Constantinople in 1550.
The English term café, borrowed from the French, derives ultimately from the Turkish ‘Kahve’, meaning coffee. However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that cafes opened in Italy, France, Germany and England.
Over the next 200 years cafes became a social place for the sober and flourished in London.
I remember learning in high school about the political factions of the Whig versus the Tories from the mid 17th to mid 19th century, and coffeehouses competed for supplies of both Whig and Tory Newspapers, causing the coffeehouse to become a political space!
It was also a place to do business in buying and selling insurance, stocks, commodities and occasionally even slaves were disposed of in coffeehouses.
It was also a place for creativity.
Somewhere for groups to get together, act or perform, as well as an informal place to hand out papers, what we would best know as flyers or newspapers (as by this time the printing press had become well established).
Coffeehouses were a gathering place for intellectuals and artists. The wealthier of these were drinking and dining in the more gourmet, high end coffeehouses in Europe, while the more modest bistro catered for the Bohemian artists.
By the 19th century the daily newspaper and home post service had displaced some of these traditions in cafes, however throughout the 19th century and to the modern day, we can recognise the cafe as an important institution of our times.
It could well be argued (and hence the aspiration to own and run a coffee shop), that a cafe is more than just a place to buy and sell specialty coffee, or a place for coffee addicts to get their fix.
It’s a place that provides free social interaction, from first dates, job interviews, celebrations, mother meetings, business-folk or students working on devices, tourists taking a rest and getting their bearings, or just a simple break to people-watch or read a good book.
The cafe in my experience is also a place to hang out on your own, without social commentary, unlike the restraint of eating alone in a restaurant, where you might be seen as a sad sack.
Advertising is all about symbolism.
Since the majority of people in the world rely on visual learning, the imagery purveyed is crucial to convey any message! Hence, the simple brilliance of the modern day emoji ;).
Where would we be when trying to deliver a message of love or romance, without the red heart? Advertising is a mixture of visual compilation with hidden motives, buying psychology and ultimately, communication. The primary purpose is to sell a product or idea!
Looking at the symbolic nature of the cafe or coffeehouse, in history and in our modern society, where the cafe is often the heart of a community tells us why advertisers and news reporters repetitively leverage the cafe in delivering a message.
To engage and identify with the population at large, which almost all relate to a cafe, represents a place for a myriad of roles, from being alone in a safe environment to organising community activity.
Cafes play a social and cultural role in urban and rural society. Cafes are a home away from the home! And by conveying the message of the cafe they are entering into our hearts, minds and sometimes pockets.
By Rob Marlowe, Cafe Culture International.