Starbucks waters down their blend…er, brand

Picture_5 In response to reduced foot traffic, Starbucks has launched their first foray into TV advertising. 

According to an article in BrandWeek, Starbucks CEO Jim Donald is quoted as saying "we’re trying to reach out to this broader audience that maybe has not had a chance to experience Starbacks."  Sorry Jim…but exactly where are you running these spots?  Outer Mongolia?  Who on this planet has not had the chance to experience Starbucks?  But I digress.

The trio of spots carries the "Pass the Cheer" theme.  YouTube has a foreign version, but you can see the US trio here.

I think these 3 spots are the perfect case study for what’s wrong with much of TV advertising today.

They’re fine. 

Which is exactly the problem.  The animation is fine.  The music is fine.  The message of warmth and goodwill is fine. 

But none of it says Starbucks

Most of it doesn’t even say coffee, let alone point to a specific provider.  One of the golden oldie rules of branding is if you can swap out the current logo and replace it with a competitors — you’ve got problems if the spot still works.

Well, guess what — the spot still works.  (Although I will argue, it’s weak for any coffee company.)

Over at John Moore’s Brand Autopsy, there’s the suggestion that the spots are better suited for Caribou Coffee.  Perhaps. 

But really the point is…in a world of grande, skinny, half-caf, double shot mucho mocha lattes — the Starbuck’s spots are a plain cup of black coffee.  No matter whose logo is on them.

How disappointing from the company we marketers often point to as our branding example. 

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21 comments on “Starbucks waters down their blend…er, brand

  1. Drew … “Being safe is risky.” Seth said that in THE PURPLE COW. He also said, “Boring is the most risky strategy.” Because these SBUX spots are safe and boring, they are doomed to fall short of the company’s expectations of (a) driving in new customers and (b) getting current customers to come in more often.

    To your point, Starbucks found success by making the common cup of coffee uncommonly better. Ain’t nothin’ uncommonly better about these TV commercials.

    (FYI, I only thought the Ski Lift spot, which was the first one released, worked better for Caribou than for Starbucks.)

    And you’d be surprised that each each year, Starbucks customer base is comprised of about 20%+ new customers. Yes, these are people who have NEVER bought anything at a Starbucks before.

    Thanks for the link love.

  2. Mark True says:


    Considering the passion that many Starbuckers and former Strabuckers demonstrate, I’m surprised someone didn’t stand up and say “wait, that’s not us!” and put a stop to this nonsense.

    Then again, someone allowed them to sell their coffee in the grocery store aisle. Last night, I saw gift packages of coffee and a Starbucks-logo mug on discount at Gordman’s last night – it was even in the breezway, outside the security towers!


  3. Funny that you mention this, Drew, I had the exact same approach to some work the other day. We were presenting a marketing campaign to a client, and although all the other groups came up with a set of ads, we took a different approach. We had some ads as well (to fulfill the requirement) but took it upon ourselves to let the client know that their brand entity is not ownable. I showed a recent ad that was placed in a local publication, scanned it, took out the logo and added the logo of his competitors. On showing this to him I made a point that there was nothing ownable about the ad, that his competitors could simply sticky tape their logos over his, and nobody could make a difference.

    Your right, there’s nothing in these ads that make them truly Starbucks.

  4. Amanda says:

    These spots make me want to curl up and share a hot drink with friends, but as a non-coffee drinker, I just figure one coffee shop is as good as the next. There isn’t anything in these spots that tell me Starbucks is the place for me. Other than that white chocolate peppermint thing. Mmmm. They certainly don’t stand out and scream “STARBUCKS,” but I am not sure anything they do does anymore. So as far as reaching folks who haven’t “experienced” Starbucks (that’s me!), I’d say this is a failure.

    I guess they have that “come have a cuppa with us” feel that kind of evokes the third space thing they’re going for. So at least there’s that. Kind of.

  5. Rush Nigut says:

    I can’t help but wonder whether the fall of the Starbucks’ stock is a result of the failings you describe.

  6. John,

    “Ain’t nothin’ uncommonly better about these TV commercials”

    Amen! I expect mediocre brands to do medicore TV. Which is why I was so surprised and disappointed that Starbucks did as well.

    They’re just better than that.


  7. Mark,

    Do you believe that Starbucks is losing their grip on their product and their brand? Are they becoming too mainstream?

    Do you believe that to be a great brand…you need to stay in the fringe a little?


  8. Piotr,

    How did the client react to your presentation?


  9. Amanda,

    I agree. They’re well done, feel good spots. They give you a warm feeling. But there’s nothing about them that makes you crave Starbucks.

    You’re right, they are more of a hot chocolate series, than a caffeine jolt.


  10. The Kaiser says:

    A pointless waste of money. Here we have a brand generating yet more “feel good at christmas” noise that neither helps the brand (a brand I loath anyway – I’m European, I like good old fashioned cafés with grumpy old ladies that serve coffee) nor focuses on my needs at christmas.

    A chance missed. Money spent. Noise made.

    Good morning America!

  11. Drew, when a company lose the compass to the right way, they should lokk outside to bring in fresh ideas. I would suggest to Starbucks to stop waste money on tv, if they do not want to become the Wall mart of coffee and hire some marketing guys from the luxury market. They are the only one able to sell mainstream and retain the halo of the eclusivity

  12. The Kaiser says:

    Gianandrea – “The Wal Mart of coffee” – brilliant!

  13. The Kaiser says:

    To be honest Cam, I’d forgotten Coke’s polar bear campaign. 😉

  14. Kaiser —

    So, if you were given the assignment of suggesting a creative direction for Starbucks (given that we don’t know more than we know) — where might you have started to point them, as opposed to the Christmas warmth direction?


  15. Gia,

    Do you think that for a brand to maintain kind of the “cool mystique” that Starbucks has — they need to avoid being too over-exposed and mainstream?


  16. Cam,

    I think there are some horrific ads/icons out there that prove that if run with consistency and frequency — just about anything can become memorable.

    These illustrations do have the same almost “collectible” feel that Coke’s bears do. I think the question is — if they did, what message do they deliver?

    Is it enough/okay that it’s just a holiday cheer/warmth message?


  17. The Kaiser says:

    That’s a really good point actually Drew. Holiday cheer and warmth. My gut feeling tells me that Christmas has very little to do with either of these things and I’m sure that there is probably some data to support my gut feeling. I think if you dig deeper you’ll find that Christmas is probably one of the m0st destructive and upsetting seasons of the year.


    That’s not very positive. It’s true but that’s not where brands want to go – because it scares the shit out of them.

    To answer your question to me Drew my answer would be this:

    Starbucks say something like this; “See you in the new year” they should actively encourage people to stay AWAY from their stores and encourage people to spend time sorting out the every day crisis’ that we all tend to ignore. They could think about the people that really don’t have anyone at Christmas and use the stores as exclusive meeting points for these people. Starbuck’s could start thinking about what their stores are “socially” instead of “commercially”.

  18. Drew, the halo effect that keep a brand in the consideration and dream of customers need to be carefully nurtured. This is particularly true for the premium brand, as Starbuck is. The overexpansion of the point of sales, the reduction of the quality of the service, the diversification diverging from the third place experience, these are all reasons behind a general lowering of the brand perception.
    That’s why I suggest to Starbucks to hire someone from the luxury market. If you think about a company such as Louis Vuitton, you have a company making a huge part of profit from the small stuff and with a wide number of shops across the world, still retains an image of a luxury and exclusive.

  19. One more thing: they are scared from the financial result and do the basic to show that they have concern aobut the future of the company. Instead it ‘s time to be bold and dare: stand up and say we are Starbucks.

  20. Douglas Karr says:

    I’m with you on this one, Drew! They built an entire empire off of being the ‘third place’. The place away from home where you can hang out and meet up with friends. The commercials only touch on the item and not the true brand.

  21. Doug,

    It seems as though Starbucks really lost their way. Not only with this spot but in general.

    Their announcement about closing down many of their stores may be the net result of this. It makes me wonder if they’ve experienced enough pain to realize they need to get back to their core?


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