Will Television Advertising Arrest Starbucks’ Slumber?

With sluggish trade and less-than-stellar recent stock market performance, Starbucks has recently announced that it would be starting its first ever television advertising campaign in the US.

This, in itself, doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking story – indeed, to institute a marketing blitz when business is slow appears, on the face of it, to be fairly conventional corporate behaviour. However, Starbucks has always tended to shun mainstream marketing methods, instead building its brand upon word-of-mouth and customer evangelism.

But will running a few more ads truly address the high-street giant’s current malaise? Jackie Huba at the Church of the Consumer doesn’t believe so. She instead points to Starbucks having strayed too far from its roots, the result being a diluted version of what made the brand great in the first place:

To save money, Starbucks has:

  • Switched from hand-pulled espresso shots to automatic espresso machines.
  • Eliminated the aroma of ground fresh coffee in stores in lieu of "flavor locked packaging."
  • Streamlined store designs; today, they lack the customized funky cool of yore.

To exploit new revenue sources, Starbucks has also:

  • Delved into movie producing.
  • Launched a record label.
  • Started selling shelf space for book promotions.

When you start dreaming of monetizing seats or places in line, you change the nature of what you once delivered.

Will a brand-building TV ad campaign make people visit stores more often? Probably not.

Starbucks is a beloved brand because of the quality of the store experience. Period. End of story.

And it’s not just marketers who agree with this assessment: Earlier this year, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz admitted in a leaked internal memo that the company:

… had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, some might call the commoditization of our brand.

The lesson seems to be that where brands are concerned, re-emphasising the things that made you successful in the first place need not be a backwards step.

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