The recent BloombergBusinessWeek profile of Cinnabon and its head, 35-year-old Kat Cole, is full of things most companies might prefer the article didn’t mention. Its signature cinnamon roll is 880 calories and has been called a “gut bomb.” The act of eating it is described thusly: “It coats the mouth and clogs the back of the throat. Halfway through the roll, the body cries out for water or, even better, Diet Coke, which has a way of cutting through the varnish laid by the fats and sugars. ” It has an ingredient called “the goo.” The company made a failed attempt at the savory market with a Pizzabon, a marinara sauce, cheese and pepperoni-stuffed roll that sounds like a hot wad of trash.
Still, this is a company that sells 100 million rolls per year and gets referenced on social media every 10 seconds.
Cole’s story is incredible — a former Hooters waitress who was VP of the company by age 26 — but it’s secondary to the overall message. People don’t give a flying fig that Cinnabons are terrible for your health. They want their guilty pleasure. They want it the same way every time. And if Cinnabon tries to mess with it, they will riot in every mall, fast food restaurant, and frozen food section where Cinnabon treats are sold.
It’s an interesting problem to have. At a time when obesity and healthfulness is in the spotlight, this is a product with no redeeming nutritional value that isn’t trying to hide that. It’s in your face fat.
But that’s also the beauty of it. People are struggling to be healthy, fighting to keep in shape and eat the right things. But they want to have the thing they’re not supposed to have every once in a while. And it’s so bad, it makes them feel great. Cole says it in the article: “It’s almost pornographic. It’s just so over-the-top. It’s a sensory experience.”
Rather than hide that beneath “low fat” labels and “organic” recipes, Cinnabon is all in. It’s the butt of bad jokes and it’s bad-mouthed, but as Louis CK explains, people who are getting this product know what they’re asking for and they savor every bite.
Cole seems like a woman without artifice. The article explains that she still wears a six-year-old designer bag that’s falling apart, and carries a mobile device with a cracked screen. She knows what she likes and what works for her. Just like her customers.