White Coffee Lids and a Question About Sensation Transference

Last Thursday, while stopping in at New Wave Coffee on my way home, I noticed a small change: white coffee lids.

Normally, the lids are black. In fact, out of all the time I’ve been getting coffee from New Wave… I can’t recall a time when the lids weren’t black. Seeing white lids actually gave me a physical pause, and putting the thing on top of my cup looked a little… well, it looked a little weird. Perhaps that’s too strong a word – they looked different.

Thinking about these new lids, I couldn’t help but think about the concept of sensory transference, a brilliant concept coined by marketing researcher Louis Cheskin. Here’s a summary of the concept by Malcolm Gladwell:

Cheskin was convinced that when people give an assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself.

To put it another way, Cheskin believed that most of us don’t make a distinction — on an un-conscious level — between the package and the product. The product is the package and the product combined.

Of course, the coffee that I got was delicious – as always. There was nothing different about the beans they used, or the manner in which they prepared it. Everything was exactly the same, save the color of the lid in my hand.

Curious, I went to talk with the girl at the counter. I asked her when the lids had been changed, and learned that it was likely some kind of ordering mishap. In short – a mistake from the supplier, and not an intentional move to change the color.

I then asked if there had been any customers who had complained about the coffee, and started to explain the concept of sensory transference – but she knew immediately what it was. According to her, she hadn’t heard anyone say anything, and none of the other folks working had any reports.

I was a bit disappointed to hear this – not because I wish complaints upon my local coffee shop (I love New Wave), but because here was a chance to see the concept of sensory transference in action! The last time I encountered an example of Cheskin’s theory in person was when Tropicana changed its packaging (and many of their customers complained).

I was only there for a short while on Thursday, and so perhaps my observational “window” was too small. I also didn’t know how many white lids there were in total (there may have been a very small number of them to begin with). Maybe there weren’t enough lids in circulation to register a difference. The nature-documentary nerd in me wanted to grab a table, camp out with a notebook and binoculars, and watch customers for the remainder of the night.

I’d be curious to hear if any of the other employees got any kind of comments or complaints, during the time when the white lids were out on the floor. It seemed like such the perfect little social experiment – a real-life example of Cheskin’s theory, in the wild.

For those not from Logan Square, New Wave Coffee is located at 3103 West Logan, on the corner of Milwaukee and Logan. They have sandwiches, pastries, free wi-fi… and serve a fantastic cup of coffee, regardless of the lid color.

Pareidolia, Coffee, And A Clown In A Gimp Mask
Coffee Cup Seam And Lid Placement
Spilling the (Coffee) Beans
New Tropicana Packaging, Malcolm Gladwell And Sensation Transference

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