Keurig CEO Sort Of (But Not Really) Apologizes For Company's Ridiculous Foray Into Obnoxious Coffee DRM
from the We're-sorry-for-being-a-little-too-innovative dept
You’ll recall how last year, Keurig Green Mountain created a surprising, negative public relations tsunami with the news it would be using a form of “coffee DRM” in its latest Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. The new technology basically prevented anyone from being able to use refill pods from competitors, or any of the more environmentally-friendly, more cost-effective refillable pods available online. Company CEO Brian Kelley and Keurig’s marketing department then made matters dramatically worse when they tried to claim the ham-fisted market lockdown was “critical for performance and safety reasons.”
The story got notably more amusing when “hackers” started defeating the company’s DRM measures with rather low-brow hacks consisting of pieces of Scotch tape. Competitors similarly began either developing pods that quickly defeated the embedded technology, or gave away plastic clips that confused the system into accepting competitors’ pods. In short, what Keurig thought was a clever way to lock down a market and make extra money, wound up making the company look like a tone-deaf, anti-competitive, mechanical dinosaur powered by over-caffeinated nitwits.
A little more than a year after the embarrassing saga began, Keurig appears to finally be beginning a not-entirely graceful about-face on the matter. After the company’s stock took a notable nose dive and sales of brewers and accessories dropped 23% last quarter, Kelley claims he’s now seen the error of his ways. Sort of.
Reading the actual transcript of Keurig’s latest earnings call, Kelley still can’t help but minimize the backlash as the concerns of a “small percentage” of “passionate” users. Meanwhile, while Keurig focuses heavily on the fact it was wrong for pulling the company’s own, reusable “My K Cup” from the market, the fact Keurig tried to bulldoze its way to market domination via obnoxious, heavy-handed DRM is, as you might expect, downplayed dramatically:
“I would tell you the other thing we heard loud and clear from the consumer while very small percent of consumers, a very vocal and intense, passionate consumer who really wanted the my K-cup back, what we learned that it?s important the message and the signal that it sends, the ethos that it sends is that we want consumers to be able to brew every brand, any brand of coffee in their machine and bringing the my K-cup back allows that.
…My K-cup wasn?t going to work with a new system as the new system had to identify the pod versus a carafe, so we took the My K-cup away and quite honestly we?re wrong. We missed, we didn?t ? we underestimated, it?s the easiest way to say, we underestimated the passion that consumer had for this. And when we did it, and we realized it, we?re bringing it back because it was we missed it. We shouldn?t have taken it away, we did. We are bringing it back.
So yes, while it’s great to hear the company admit it was “wrong,” Kelley only admits to being wrong for pulling Keurig’s own reusable pod from the market, not necessarily for trying to block all competing products — or for spending a year trying to argue that the ridiculous foray into DRM was necessary for the safety and security of Keurig’s products. Meanwhile it’s still apparently going to take Keurig until Christmas to re-introduce its own, refillable pod, and, contrary to media coverage, there’s no clear statement here that the company’s planning to back away from coffee DRM entirely. Still, it’s at least a partial victory, and Keurig’s sort-of-mea-culpa is the perfect way to belatedly celebrate this week’s International Day Against DRM.