Make yourself scarce.

Seeing these new Starbucks ads everywhere confirmed my feeling that whatever elan this brand once had, it has lost. In fact, the sheer ubiquity of the campaign added to the problem. I mean, here’s an ad that basically sells scarcity—we use only 3% of the world’s beans—and then they plaster the message everywhere!

Part of what used to make Starbucks cool was that they didn’t advertise. Yes, they did the occasional (and sweet) holiday effort, but they didn’t spend a lot, the ads didn’t sell very hard, and it all felt artisanal and small-bore…exactly what you want from makers of $3.00 cups of coffee. Dropping $100 million on an ad campaign says “We’re the Micky D of coffee” no matter what the headline is.

In a spectacularly misguided effort at social-network relevancy, Starbucks CEO Howard Shutlz laid out his thinking for the company’s “partners” (read: hourly employees) in this YouTube video:

If you’ve built your brand through advertising (as, for instance, Folgers did in coffee), then there are good reasons to keep advertising. If you built your brand as “the third place”—essentially, an experience rather than a bunch of product claims—then advertising ought to be a waste of money at best.


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