Uh-Oh! Oreo

The new flavor of Android is “Oreo”. I have mixed feelings about this.

Not because it’s a corporate tie-in. You may recall that I was in favor of Android Kit-Kat. And let’s be real here: Android itself is a corporate offering; it’s not like a little message cross-promotion is diluting some kind of ideological purity.

Nor is it because I dislike Oreos. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The problem is that I’m not sure what an Oreo is these days–and neither is Nabisco. Really. Have you looked at the cookie aisle of your local supermarket these days? Here’s mine:

Go ahead and click the image to see it full-sized. Soak yourself in the knowledge that there are now at least 21 varieties of Oreo. Yeah, I counted. (In case you can’t read the labels, even in the large image, they are:

  1. Heads or Tails Double Stuf
  2. Oreo Chocolate Creme
  3. Oreo Peanut Butter
  4. Oreo Mint
  5. Oreo Thins Lemon
  6. Oreo Thins Golden
  7. Oreo Thins
  8. Oreo Thins Chocolate
  9. Oreo Thins Mint
  10. Oreo Thins Coconut
  11. Oreo Golden Double Stuf
  12. Oreo Golden Birthday Cake
  13. Oreo Birthday Cake
  14. Cinnamon Bun Oreo
  15. Red Velvet Oreo
  16. Oreo Mega Stuf
  17. Oreo Golden Lemon
  18. Oreo Reduced Fat
  19. Oreo (aka “Milk’s Favorite Cookie”)
  20. Oreo Golden
  21. Oreo Double Stuff

The bottom shelf is larger packages of the same things that are on the higher shelves.)

And you know what? They don’t taste like Oreos.

Maggie and I did a little taste test.

Cinnamon Bun Oreos do not taste like any cinnamon bun I’ve ever eaten–and I’ve had some bad ones. That’s not to say these are bad cookies. There is a slight bitter aftertaste, and the cinnamon is partly artificial (the ingredient list includes both “cinnamon” and “artificial flavors”). But for a cheap, cinnamon-flavored cookie, they’re not bad. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s really the best I can say for these things.

Then there are the Red Velvet Oreos with their “Cream Cheese Flavored Creme”. The creme does not taste like cream cheese. Neither one of us could decide what it does taste like (other than sugar), but it’s not cream cheese. I’ll give them this: these cookies taste more like red velvet cake than the cinnamon bun cookies taste like cinnamon buns. And I’d be more likely to buy these again. Especially if they dropped the Oreo branding.

In an earlier, independent tasting, Maggie had some Key Lime Pie Oreos, which are not currently available in our local store. She reports that the somewhat-graham-cracker-crust-like cookies were reasonably successful, and the creme did taste sort of lime-like.

I haven’t tried any of the “Golden” cookies, and frankly, I don’t plan to. That’s just too far off-message.

Look, I’m old enough to remember when Double Stuf Oreos were introduced–I was nine–and I thought that was pretty darn neat. Even today, when I’ve decided that the original version has just the right balance of cookie to filling, I don’t have any problem with Double Stuf, or even, God help us, Mega Stuf, because they still have the pseudo-chocolatish cookie paired with the faintly vanilla filling that defines an Oreo.

As I said earlier, if they weren’t branded as “Oreo,” I might buy more of the red velvet cookies, and Maggie had a similar reaction to the key lime pie variant.

The name “Oreo” conjures up a very specific taste memory–and let’s not forget that psychologists say that scent/taste memories are among the strongest and longest lasting. By labeling these randomly-flavored items with that name, Nabisco is fighting with customers’ expectations. It’s an uphill battle that probably can’t be won.

Instead, Oreo is diluting their brand to little effect and fragmenting their own market.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly where Android stands. With thirteen flavors of Android in the market (“Cupcake” through “Oreo”), each of which has been re-skinned and reworked by hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers, there are almost as many varieties of Android on the shelves as there are of Oreos.

Is that really the image Google wants Android to present?