I was walking down West End Lane when I noticed an unusual board outside a coffee shop.

A modern Japanese drawing of a girl sipping a hot cup of coffee, and the name: Intermission.

What caught my eye was how empty the design was compared to all the cluttered signage around.

I went in for a cappuccino, then I noticed Paul coffee shop next door had a board outside, too.

But their board was messy, crammed full of food and prices, so I hadn’t even seen it, it just looked like all the other cluttered signs around, so it was invisible.

I thought that was a good demo of how ads work, so I took a picture, from both sides, and put it on twitter.

I wrote: “Two coffee shops side-by-side, whose PoS stands out and is more appetising?”

I meant it as a rhetorical question, but people treated it as a genuine question and began answering it.

Here are some of the replies:

“Depends how well known each is (Paul Express is a chain? If so branding could be a bit more prominent), what you see when you look to the right, etc. Seems very testable.”

“If I’m hungry, I’m going for the images of food. I don’t want to think. “Intermission” requires me to work out the meaning so takes longer to process. Clever isn’t always effective.”

“I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with Paul’s so would steer clear of that. Doesn’t necessarily mean I’d opt for the left-hand establishment as the name and visual aren’t telling me much about what’s on offer or how much that offer is going to cost me.”

“I feel like marketing Twitter (myself included) will have a unanimous view on which is the ‘nicer’ creative, but in real world marketing, only one has a clear ‘thing to buy’. This cries out for some kind of footfall/engagement research”

“If what I want from a cappuccino is to be ethically sourced and properly crafted, Intermission is the one. But if the most important thing is that the cappuccino comes with a decent sandwich, I would trust a bakery way more than a coffee shop. It’s a category thing.”

“If I’m out for a drink / snack / both. I’ve a task in mind and I don’t need extra variables to think about. But the only way to say what works is to see what consumers do in a controlled trial. None of our opinions actually matter!”

“Only one seems to be designed for its intended demo. Intermission feels like it only exists to pop other creatives. It’s cute and the kind of work you admire in a portfolio, but I’d question its effectiveness. I don’t think either does its job particularly well, though.”

“Intermission doesn’t even tell me if it’s cafe. I’d pick Paul’s because it has every info I need when I’m shopping for hunger. I don’t buy the artsy folks arguing that it looks overly commodified…99% cafes are just that. Also, art looks better hung on cafe walls, inside.”

“The best one would be the one that’s not there….a combination of both…the creativity and individuality of intermission with some of the labelling and clarity of offer of Paul’s, but hard to judge as I’m sure there’s more going on out of frame, the sign is just one ingredient …”

“Depends on the objective, which given the placement I would assume is direct response. Neither is excellent though. But I would personally go right if forced to run with one. In reality, both would go in the trash.”


….do you think it’s possible you might just be overthinking this?

This is just a PoS (point-of-sale) board outside a coffee shop, an A1 sized piece of plywood.

At its simplest, PoS just needs the word COFFEE and an arrow pointing to the shop, that does the basic job.

The question is, can we improve on that?

As you might expect, most of the creatives picked the simplest poster that dominated the space.

Most of the marketing types managed to pick the poster that had everything on it including the kitchen sink.

This is no surprise, but it does show us that the problem is overthinking what’s necessary for the job.

The job is to make people who are walking past fancy a cup of coffee.

  • You can’t do that if they don’t see you.
  • They won’t see you if you don’t dominate the space.
  • You won’t dominate the space unless you are different to the surroundings.

All of the other reasoning about food, prices, pastry, information, is all clutter which will stop you being simple. Which will stop you dominating the space. Which will make you invisible.

All the information a customer needs is in the coffee shop right behind the poster – that’s why it’s called:

Point. Of. Sale.

The poster doesn’t need body copy, or branding , or special offers, all of that is in the shop behind the poster.

The PoS job is not to close the sale.

The PoS job is to intrigue you into finding out more.

So everyone’s problem is overthinking.

Overthinking, in this case, is seeing with the MIND versus seeing with the EYES.

The golden rule is always: form FOLLOWS function.

So let’s get the function right before we start picking the form apart.