The Dude abides: Chameleon Cold-Brew’s reptilian mascot quietly emerges as an advertising star

The Many created the first national campaign for the Nestlé-owned canned coffee, which pivoted from people jammed in crowded coffee shop lines to CGI lizards bantering from refrigerated shelves.

Chameleon Cold-Brew coffee is turning its reptilian brand icon into an advertising star. 

An ad campaign by The Many for the Nestlé-owned coffee brand features a spokes-lizard, known as The Dude. The chameleon and his sidekicks debuted in a series of spots this summer, part of an under-the-radar launch in deference to lockdown and civil unrest stressors. 

This October, The Dude is coming back with a set of new spots, including Choir, where he and his sidekicks sing and banter on a retailer’s refrigerated case. Plans are for The Dude and friends to star in advertising, social media and in-store marketing into 2021. 

All the spots in the Bring That Craft Home campaign lock in on shelves of Chameleon bottles, depicting the wide range of varieties, from espresso to oat milk to vanilla and cinnamon, and lizards that come to life animatedly. The product close-ups with off-screen voiceovers were conceptualized to work in a COVID-19 production world.

Before the lockdown, The Many and Chameleon were headed in a different direction, noted Leonardo Aizpuru, GM in charge of ready-to-drink beverages at Nestlé.

“The original idea The Many came up with was a great campaign that was based on this truth that you don’t have to stand in line at a coffee shop to get truly crafted, premium coffee,” Aizpuru explained. 

“It would have shown the traditional coffee shop experience, with overcrowded, long lines, lots of noises and the [main character] starts to question, ‘Do I really need all of this to enjoy a high quality coffee?’” said The Many’s creative director Josh Paialii. “It transitioned to him discovering high-quality Chameleon Cold-Brew in the bodega right next door.” 

Just as the people-centric idea was entering the production phase, the 2020 lockdown began. The Many had already developed a concept about the chameleons and scenarios and scripts were created in 48 hours that could be produced by remote teams.  

With Framestore producing and providing visual effects, Paialii had a bodega cold case and ordinary refrigerator shipped to the director of photography who shot the products in situ for the ads. The rest of the team directed and approved via Zoom. 

“In the original spot, we were using the antihero (coffee shop lines) to show why our brand could be the hero,” Aizpuru said. “Now, what we are saying is the brand is the hero and we don’t need to tell you what the brand is not. We are actually a little bit happier that we landed in such a great, unique place here.”

When Choir and another spot, Bragging, roll out, the opinionated Chameleon cans and bottles will continue to push their brazen personalities, not the foodie persona one might expect for organic, sustainable coffee. Fall and winter are also not the most expected times to be advertising cold coffee, but millennial and Gen Z consumption trends are tilting toward iced coffee versus the hot brew of their parents. 

“Traditionally in the U.S., coffee has always been thought of as a hot beverage,” Aizpuru explained. “Twenty years ago, cold coffee started picking up, more like a treat, an iced cappuccino in the afternoon that you would go pick up at a coffee shop. Maybe five or six years ago, we started to see a really massive trend of cold coffee becoming a substitute for your hot coffee in the morning. It became less of a treat and more of a habitual consumption.”

As the Chameleon brand name suggests, cold-brew coffee is an amorphous beverage category that has a lot of room for product innovation, across flavors, cans and bottles. Nestlé acquired the Austin-based Chameleon, with a pedigree in organic and sustainability, in 2017 to help round out its portfolio of coffee brands.

Nestlé has the coffee category covered in most regards. Its Nescafé instant coffee was introduced in 1938, and the brand portfolio includes the high-end Nespresso brewing system, acquisitions such as Chameleon and even manufacturing for Starbucks’ own packaged cold-brew coffees through a global coffee alliance announced in 2018 that gave Nestlé manufacturing and distributing rights outside of Starbucks’ premises.

Ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee has gone from approximately 5% of overall coffee market share to 11%, totaling approximately $3.3 billion in sales, according to Nestlé and Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data. Refrigerated RTD coffee is growing at a 20% clip, year-over-year, according to IRI, while the larger, shelf-stable canned segment is maintaining at 3% growth between May 2019 and May 2020. 

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