Did Panera take our slogan?

by nomeatbarefeet

I was listening to Pandora and a Panera Bread Co. commercial came on that ended with the slogan:

Live Consciously. Eat Deliciously.

What?! Live Consciously? Hmmm, that sounds awfully familiar. Ok, obviously they didn’t steal it from us (since we got it from Thoreau). But I think that the idea of living a conscious life, of being deliberate and aware of your choices and where you put your time, money, and energy is a very important ethos to live by.

But can it translate into a marketing scheme?

Michael Simon, Panera’s chief marketing officer, described the core of the message this way:

We as a company made all these conscious decisions, like baking fresh bread from fresh dough daily in our 1,600 cafes. To do that, we had to make the choice to build a national fresh dough facility infrastructure. We had to hire and train 3,000 bakers who get up every night at 11 or 12 o’clock and bake fresh bread and sweet breads for each café. And then at the end of the day, whatever isn’t sold is donated to food banks and hunger organizations.

It was our conscious decision to move away from deli meat to antibiotic-free meat that’s made with a sous vide cooking method.

Over the past decade, there’s been a lot of poor behavior by corporations, from Enron to the financial services industry, and some of the things in the restaurant industry — the level of brand trust in companies has declined by half in the past decade. If people see companies authentically operate in conscious ways and that they are more values-based, they want to do business with those companies.

Now, I think these are good ideas: expressing and transmitting company values to customers and trying to “elevate [their] lives”—all good things. But can you really put the message of “living consciously” into a digestible, distributable, marketable package for consumers? I think there is a real worry that in making the idea of “living consciously” a marketing scheme you will severely diminish it.

Let me say first off that Panera is one of the few (but growing) quick-stop eateries (like ChipotleMoe’s, or Subway) where vegans can get something to eat. Although the choices are not vast, Katie and I know exactly what it is we can get and it is almost always fresh tasting and delicious. Plus, Paneras are sprouting up everywhere.

But, as I see it, the core of “living consciously” is, again, being deliberate and aware of your choices and where you put your time, money, and energy. Thus, our notion of the concept runs into direct conflict with Panera’s. Ultimately, their goal is to address “brand trust”. As such, they want to “take more of [their] customers from ‘preference’ to ‘love.’” Their goal is to make customers “go more, because they found we share their values.”

Our goal, in our Living Deliberately Project, is to not go more. We severely limit how much money we spend, and we consciously refrain from eating out unless certain circumstances force us to. Making food at home—for both the nutritional and social aspects—is much the better option. This doesn’t mean never eating out, but it surely doesn’t mean feeling closer to the vales of a company or wanting to eat there more often.

Again, I have no real issue with Panera as a company. I think they do a great job of providing fresh food and helping the communities in which they are located. (Of course, I wish they would decrease their reliance on meat, even “antibiotic-free” meat, and instead increase the number of plant-based options they offer.) That being said, they seem to have commandeered the concept of “living consciously” for their own purposes, altering it to help them achieve better brand trust, all in the service of shared values and community outreach.

To use the slogan “live consciously” in a marketing campaign diminishes it to a catchphrase or tag line. The substance of the concept, as I understand it, gets lost amongst the goal—explicit or not—to be get more people to eat at your store rather than the next one.

This problem is certainly nothing new. The only significance here is that the slogan hit close to home.