Black Insomnia, a South African coffee brand that is the latest to claim the title of “world’s strongest coffee,” is coming to the US market. The coffee claims to have more caffeine in its beans (702 mg per 12 ounce up, vs. 195 mg for Starbucks) than former caffeine champion Death Wish.
Black Insomnia has the numbers to back up its claims, but it’s also the latest to illustrate the “seven minute abs” branding conundrum and the weakness of such a strategy.
It’s currently available in shops in South African cities including Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, but has been doing a U.S. media taste test blitz in New York including NBC’s The Today Show and a segment on Cheddar TV.
Last year, Black Insomnia launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance its U.S. dreams, but it failed to reach its goal. Now the brand has worked out the financing to market in America, where it will be available within the month.
Black Insomnia coffee hired a Swiss lab to test its beans’ caffeine content and claims its coffee packs a whopping 17.5 grams of caffeine per kilogram. That’s more than 2 grams per kg greater than former market leaders WodFee and Death Wish. (Read our interview with Death Wish Founder Mike Brown.)
The 1998 cult comedy There’s Something About Mary features a crazed hitchhiker with a bold business idea—to get rich by selling an exercise video series that shaves a minute off its competitor’s claims, pitching the Seven Minute Abs workout as a response to then-popular Eight Minute Abs. “Think about it, you walk into a video store. You see Eight Minute Abs sitting’ there, there’s Seven Minute Abs right beside it—which one are you gonna’ pick, man?”
This scene illustrates the totality of Black Insomnia’s brand positioning. It’s just undercutting (or over-delivering) on Death Wish, the current U.S. market leader, in the “strongest-coffee race.” But it’s a tenuous brand position because of how vulnerable it is to another brand just claiming a fraction stronger brew.
10 Most Caffeinated Coffee in 2017: YUP! You guessed it. Black Insomnia IS the Strongest https://t.co/fpX8QD8S5G
— BLACK INSOMNIA (@BlackInsomniaSA) April 6, 2017
Death Wish’s entire brand was based on being the most caffeine per unit; now Black Insomnia is the “Seven Minute Abs” of coffee caffeine. And of course the response in that Something About Mary scene is when the driver says, “Unless somebody comes up with Six Minute Abs. Then you’re in trouble, huh?”
This seems like a short-term gambit for any coffee company willing to leverage it. As Grub Street reports, at least nine different coffee companies selling on Amazon currently claim to have the strongest coffee. It might be a good idea for some of them to think about differentiating their brands.
Further, Black Insomnia may want to rethink the drill sergeant-tough brand persona that’s giving voice to its “strongest” claim. The video that accompanied the brand’s Kickstarter went out of its way—in NSFW language style—to insult all of its potential customers, from tattooed coffee “conformists” to exercise enthusiasts, to vegans with no personality.
It’s a social treatise, anchored by a motto nearly as much a political call to action as a consumer one: “Time to Wake Up” and the hashtag #sleepingischeating. The only one probably about to wake up is Black Insomnia, after realizing that bullying their most likely consumers is not something a premium coffee company selling beans for nearly $20 a pound can get away with.