Selling Swedish Coffee Through the Mail

February 9, 2020

Lester Wunderman

Brand storytelling is about standing for something and striving for excellence in everything your business does. It’s about framing your scarcity and dictating your value.
Bernadette Jiwa, The Fortune Cookie Principle

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The human mind tells itself stories to make sense out of this crazy old world. We think in narratives. For example, if I told you there were ten thousand orphans created by the latest war, that would upset you. But you would be much more moved by the details of the plight of a single orphan child.

The Father of Direct Marketing

Lester Wunderman was “the first direct marketer ever to be on the senior board of a major (advertising) agency.” He’s often referred to as the Father of Direct Marketing.

Decades before the internet existed, Wunderman envisioned a future where “a better, less time-consuming way of shopping would evolve, and the home would become the shopping center of the future.”

A New Way to Buy Coffee

In 1980, when he was working for Young & Rubicam, Wunderman was convinced he could sell premium Swedish Gevalia coffee by mail, but he faced three significant hurdles:

  1. Getting people to pay a premium price for a brand they’d never heard of
  2. Getting people to buy coffee through the mail
  3. Getting people to believe that great coffee comes from Sweden

Although Y&R’s research showed that Americans enjoyed the taste of Gevalia, Wunderman knew it wasn’t going to be an easy sell.

First of all, there are countries that we naturally associate with coffee – think Brazil, Kenya, Columbia, Italy, or Costa Rica. But Wunderman realized that “No one in America thought of Sweden as a source of great coffee.”

(Actually, the Swedes are crazy about their coffee! Only their Nordic neighbors in Finland drink more coffee than the Swedes. Maybe it’s those long, cold nights.)

Automatic Replenishment

Another problem was getting people to accept a brand new way to buy consumable products. In 1980, Americans weren’t used to receiving packaged goods in their mailboxes.

Wunderman decided he needed a come up with a “new word” to “describe the process of selling something people regularly consumed.” He settled on the phrase “automatic replenishment.” This would allow people to buy a coffee “subscription” so they “would never run out of Gevalia.” It was a very shrewd marketing strategy.

Automatic replenishment is an evocative phrase, and the word replenish contains some very pleasant connotations (refresh, restore, renew). In copywriting, it’s important to remember that the connotations of words trigger all sorts of emotional responses.

The Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee

When it came time to write the copy for Gevalia, Wunderman realized that he had to do more than simply choose the right adjectives. Clever advertisers had already sold a lot of coffee by convincing people that it would provide a rich, strong, aromatic, and satisfying experience. These are some wonderful words that convey a sense of wealth, power, comfort, and even a hint of sexual gratification.

It was time to try something else. So Wunderman used storytelling to convince Americans to buy expensive Swedish coffee through the mail. He decided to focus on the tale of Gevalia’s master coffee roaster Victor Engvall and his “obsession with the perfect cup of coffee.”

The Rest of the Story

How did Wunderman do it? To hear rest of the story, see Lester Wunderman’s exceptional memoir Being Direct, Chapter 22.

If you read the whole book, you’ll learn a whole bunch of fascinating stuff: Wunderman’s involvement in the early days of record clubs; how he used catalogues to sell millions of rosebushes; how he helped convince people not to leave home without the American Express Card; how he was courted by the legendary David Oglivy.

Spoiler alert: Wunderman was very impressed by Oglivy, “the best presenter of advertising I had ever seen,” but he decided to merge his firm WRK with Y&R instead.


by Richard W. Bray

somewhere there’s a rainbow

February 1, 2020


somewhere there’s a rainbow
as beautiful as you
i ain’t never seen it
but they tell me that it’s true

somehow you appeared
when i was falling apart
you sheltered me from chaos
with your beautiful heart

sometimes life is vicious
it takes everything away
it left me with a hurting
that’s impossible to say

somehow i keep going
what else can i do?
with a little bit of hope for
the world that gave me you

by Richard W. Bray

We’re Putting Bernie Sanders in the old White Hizzy

December 25, 2019

The grifters in charge
Had better beware
He’s working for the people
Not the billionaires

Come on everybody
It’s time to get busy
We’re putting Bernie Sanders
In the old White Hizzy

No more student debt
No more stupid wars
No more sons of privilege
Sneaking in the side door

Come on everybody
It’s time to get busy
We’re putting Bernie Sanders
In the old White Hizzy

Decency and kindness
Compassionate and sweet
We need a leader of the people
Not a bunch of angry tweets

Come on everybody
It’s time to get busy
We’re putting Bernie Sanders
In the old White Hizzy

by Richard W. Bray

Precious like you

November 23, 2019

Precious like a songbird
Precious like sunshine
Precious like a kind word
Precious like dinnertime
Precious like you

Precious like a rainy night
Precious like a full moon
Precious like a lullaby
Precious like a show tune
Precious like you

Precious like a rainbow
Precious like your first tooth
Precious like a meadow
Precious like the whole truth
Precious like you

Precious like a playround
Precious like a bouncing ball
Precious like an old hound
Precious like your grandpa
Precious like you

by Richard W. Bray

how about a world?

November 9, 2019

you sell guns, bombs, pills
and imperial slaughter
how about a world
where kids can drink the water?

you get paid to tell lies on tv
is that really
who you wanted to be?

you sell a war against the poor
and the middle class
while you make a sweet living
up a billionaire’s ass

falsifying is your career
I can smell your soul
rotting from here

by Richard W. Bray

I always knew you loved me

October 3, 2019

I always knew you loved me
No matter what I did
I always knew you loved me
You never kept it hid

I always knew you loved me
No matter what I said
I always knew you loved me
In your heart and in your bed

I always knew you loved me
And you know I love you too
You’ll always be inside me
And everything I do

By Richard W. Bray

I’m too old to be such a dumbass

September 29, 2019

I’m too old to be such a dumbass
Someday, I’ll pay
For each one of my sins
Catting and carousing
Till daylight
St. Peter’s gonna
Curse my silly grin

I’m too old to be such a dumbass
I’m sorry for
The selfish things I done
I left a trail of heartache
And hurting
I gotta say
I had a lotta fun

I’m too old to be such a
I’m about to bust
My weary frame
It’s too late for any excuses
I spent a lifetime
Shifting all the blame

I’m too old to be such a dumbass

I feel bad
For all them things I said
I’ve always been
A real late bloomer
I’m gonna change
Right after I am dead

By Richard W. Bray

all the rythms of life

September 26, 2019

So it is in life—from sun, to moon, to earth, to night, to day, to you getting up in the morning and going out to play a game of ball. All the rhythms of life are in some way related, one to another.
Langston Hughes, The First Book of Rhythm

That basketball was like a basketball to me.
Basketball Jones

I toss it in the air
And sometimes it goes in
I share it with my friends
And get it back again

Shooting hoops alone
I’m never in a hurry
It’s easy to be me
Pretending I’m Steph Curry

Playing all day long
Till every muscle hurts
Pounding on the asphalt
Till we’re covered up in dirt

by Richard W. Bray

how many children did you kill today?

September 21, 2019

Washing out the spot
That never goes away
How many children
Did you kill today?

Staring at the basin
In all your distress
What happens in your head
Is anybody’s guess

Now you’re making speeches
Reciting practiced lies
I wonder what’s behind
The empty in your eyes

Where does it come from?
The hunger that devours
Destroying whole countries
For a little taste of Power

by Richard W. Bray

but you’re not me

September 16, 2019

if i were you were you were you
Wanda Coleman

If I was you
I’d grow out my hair
And tuck my shirt
In my underwear

If I was you
I’d get me a tan
I’d drive a red truck
And drink like a man

If I was you
I’d get a good job
Stop dressing like a fool
And looking like a slob

Stop acting stupid
Making up your rhyme
Get outta bed early
Chew thirty-seven times

you say a lot more
than you ever really do
who ever said
that i wanna be you?

by Richard W. Bray