Everything you need to know about humanity via 5 drinks.
Spoiler alert, or – table of contents? It’s a short post, call it what you like. We’re talking about: water, wine (booze), coffee, Dr Pepper (soda), and Redbull/5-Hour Energy (energy drinks).
Well, maybe this won’t describe everything about humanity. But these five-ish drinks cover a lot of bases. Summary at the end if you have less than 2-minutes for this.
First, let’s start with the OG drink itself: water
Water has no taste. To humans at least. Because taste is an evolved experience. Humans evolved to sense any deviation away from tasteless as a protective mechanism to not die from drinking dirty’d water.
When you’re more than 50% water, the amount of dirty’d water you’re adding to the system can be problematic. Especially if you’re worried about the other driver of evolution.
Water matters because humans always have an experiential baseline. Taste is only ever determined beyond this baseline. We can learn a lot by looking for it (and it usually reduces to “what’s the obvious way not to die or at least not have any fun in this situation?”).
After water comes wine – or all booze really. Shoutout Jesus or Hank Jr. or Lil John or – it’s your call (but make the call, it’s fun). Humans have been fermenting and distilling for a long time because of the spiritual, satirical, and most importantly – reproductive values of drinks that make us tipsy.
Wine matters because humans crave novel deviation from any experiential baseline.There’s a fun-side to this and a dark-side, with lots of longer-running health effects, but the metaphor stands. We can learn a lot by looking for the tipsy-fun variation on any experience (which usually reduces to “what’s carefree look like here?”)
After wine comes coffee – or tea, and maybe those new variants on podcast ads, but I’m not sure. Humans have been singing renditions of “the best part of waking up…” for a long time. Because stimulus in the opposite direction of wine is useful.
Coffee matters because humans crave productive incentivization from any experiential baseline. Not all of the time, but if you get the timing right, you can take Monday and turn it into funday – or at least getting to work. We can learn a lot by looking for the proactively incentivized productivity variation on any experience (which usually reduces to “how do we get this started?”)
After coffee comes Dr Pepper – especially Diet Dr Pepper, and we can include all sodas or sugar-added drinks. Without getting tipsy, we love a sugar high. Dr Pepper represents a mystery formula, without any illicit drugs (you know which soda we’re talking about), immediately distinct from any other taste, and more “fun” than regular coffee or tea.
Dr Pepper matters because humans crave novel yet sober deviations from experience in the name of survival. Humans evolved to hoard fats and sugars since they’re in rare supply in nature. Dr Pepper has 23 hard-to-find flavors, each delightfully tricking our brains into thinking a real doctor must have come up with this formulation. We can learn a lot by looking for the survival-shortcut variation on any experience (which usually reduces to “if there were a shortcut to finding my favorite thing after being starved of it, what would it look like?”)
After Dr Pepper comes energy drinks, like Redbull, 5-Hour Energy, and all the rest. These are distinct from coffee and soda because of their packaging, taste profile, and overall framing. Energy drinks represent a meta-category of how marketing can influence our experience.
Redbull, 5-Hour Energy, and all “energy” drinks matter because they combine the chemical experience profile of coffee and soda, with the modern marketing angle of tricking our brains into thinking they’re somehow “more than” other drinks. Smaller containers tell us something is more potent relative to stuff in larger containers. Non-soda sweetness tastes tell us something is more like medicine. Store sales positioning leans into more impulsive purchases. We can learn a lot by looking for the packaging of a message to redirect our experience in a novel feeling but hardly new direction (which usually reduces to “what’s the more and less ‘fancy’ version of this thing?”).
This is not a conducive list to explaining all things about humanity. But this scale can be used to understand the products and services we use, or design the products and services we offer. Humans have experiential baselines, it’s strangely natural how all of life is playing with our experience.
Everything is a variation on water – ask the right questions to figure out how.
Water: “what’s the obvious way not to die or at least not have any fun in this situation?”
Wine: “what’s carefree look like here?”
Coffee: “how do we get this started?”
Soda: “if there were a shortcut to finding my favorite thing after being starved of it, what would it look like?”
Energy Drinks: “what’s the more and less ‘fancy’ version of this thing?”
Footnote: I won’t source each sub-point, but this post exists courtesy of things learned from Rory Sutherland and a million marketing books.
Footnote 2: application examples!
Investments: indices are water (and just reference points/tools), wine is actively managed mutual funds, coffee is an index fund, soda is an active sector-ETF, energy drinks or anything with leverage and a “private” label
Soccer: the sport itself is water, wine is paying for cable, Peacock, Paramount+, and others, Coffee is looking up the bars who play games, Soda is playing fantasy soccer with your friends, energy drinks are gambling real money on fantasy soccer
Music/Pop-punk: music itself is water, wine is Iggy Pop, Coffee is the Ramones, Soda is (old) Greenday, energy drinks are 100 Gecs.