Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Marketing 101 from Starbucks

Starbucks has a bunch of new ads around town. All of the have the same slogan at the bottom:

"It's not just coffee. It's Starbucks."

A few things come to mind. First of all, can HBO sue them for stealing their slogan formula, "It's not [widely available product]. It's [brand name]."?

Ah, but this ad doesn't contain the word "just."

Secondly, the slogan seems to be an encapsulation of the entire purpose of marketing. After all, isn't the whole point to get people to favor a particular brand of [product, in this case coffee] over just any old type. The goal of the advertisement is to convince the consumer that one brand stands out as special above all the rest. This is just any old coffee, they want you to believe, This coffee is special. Or, put more succinctly, "It's not just coffee. It's Starbucks." Any more straightforward and the ad would read, "Buy our product. Starbucks."

But of course, it is just coffee. I know plenty of people who love the taste of Starbucks coffee (I've ordered plenty myself), but most people would also just as gladly taste a brew from a Caribou, Dunn Brothers, Seattle's Best, or any local independent coffee shop. Sure, all these brands of coffee taste slightly different, but not drastically so. There are really only two kinds of coffee: decent coffee and bad coffee. Bad coffee may be found at gas stations, church basements, McDonald's (yes, even after their much-hyped switch to espresso drinks and "gourmet" coffee) etc. Decent coffee can usually be found at any of the coffee shop chains or any independent coffee shop.

If there is more than one laptop present, chances are the coffee will be decent.

When it comes down to nitpicking, I slightly prefer the taste of Dunn Brothers Coffee over Caribou Coffee, and likewise prefer Caribou over Starbucks. Hypothetically, if all three were at the same intersection (and I'm sure there are at least a couple intersections like this around) this would inform my purchasing. But the main factor in my coffee buying decision is, "Which store is closest?" If all I need is a cup of coffee, I'll go to a Starbucks any day if its closer than the Dunn Brothers. If I'm looking to do some work, my main considerations are access to wifi, chairs, tables and outlets. The coffee is not even a factor, because, really, they're not that different as long as they're decent.

And so the job of the marketer is to convince you that, no, the coffees are that different, and their brand is of course the best. This calls to mind a pearl of wisdom from humorist Dave Barry:

The value of advertising is that it tells you the exact opposite of what the advertiser actually thinks. For example:
  • If the advertisement says “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” the advertiser is desperately concerned that this Oldsmobile, like all other Oldsmobiles, appeals primarily to old farts like your father.
  • If Coke and Pepsi spend billions of dollars to convince you that there are significant differences between these two products, both companies realize that Pepsi and Coke are virtually identical.
  • If the advertisement strongly suggests that Nike shoes enable athletes to perform amazing feats, Nike wants you to disregard the fact that shoe brand is unrelated to athletic ability.
  • If Budweiser runs an elaborate advertising campaign stressing the critical importance of a beer’s “born-on” date, Budweiser knows this factor has virtually nothing to do with how good a beer tastes.
Keeping this truism (which never fails) in mind, lets look at some more of Starbucks' new ads:

In other words, "We're afraid you'll realize decent coffee can be had slightly cheaper across the street." And also, "Even though you may be unemployed, $4.00 for a venti is still worth it."

Or, "Please ignore the dozen other coffee places within a block of here. Starbucks or nothing!"

Or, "We can see why you'd think we we're just a massive faceless corporation which churns out millions of cups of coffee the same way fast food joints crank out hamburgers. And we understand that you'd rather support the local independent shop down the street. We're here to assure that we still have the personal touch (i.e. some underpaid person still manually hits the button on the fully automated espresso machine)."

Which is just another way of saying, "We admit it. We burn our beans, giving our coffee a slightly bitter taste which some of you may find disgusting."

Cynicism from people like me aside, I'm sure the campaigns will be a success. Ad people know what they're doing.

As Don Draper said in the first episode of Mad Men, “We have six identical companies making six identical products; we can say anything we want.”

Sounds kind of familiar.

1 comment:

  1. Honey, your profile says you live with your "wife daughter in St Paul." That sounds like you married your daughter.

    World, let it be known that there is a missing "and."

    I love you!