To Starbucks: Media blasts won't help your bottom line
Starbucks is a company I try to hard to hate, but can't, which is more than I can say for most.
For those of you who haven't heard, those poor fellows at Starbucks experienced their first decline in customer traffic, EVER. Keep in mind, this is after they expanded from 3,000 to 10,000 US locations in two years. Naturally, management had a pow-wow, someone raised their hand and said, "Doesn't advertising increase traffic?", to which everyone nodded, and by the end of the day an advertising budget proposal, in the millions, was on the CEO's desk. Who wants to bet TV buys will make up the majority of the budget?
Taking a step back, the reason I have such a hard time being negative about Starbucks is that up to this point they never advertised, by extension meaning they never annoyed, or interrupted me. By not advertising they somehow held on to their authenticity of being the "third place", even though I can stand on a street corner in Manhattan and spot 3 locations. In addition, by not advertising they never shoved a message or image down my throat telling me what their brand should mean to me. It was ambiguous and I defined it in my own personal way. Even now I can't describe the feeling of escaping the bone-chilling New York winters to grab a cup of coffee, jump on my laptop, and meet up with a friend.
Those of you that read my blog regularly understand that I'm not a 100% new media evangelist and I still believe that there is a place for traditional broadcasts; however, I also believe the mass blasts should only be used to increase awareness for new products, time sensitive promotions, and differentiation in low-involvement, saturated markets (ie. toothpaste). Starbucks doesn't fall into any of these categories and is in fact one of the must ubiquitous brands in the world.
If their goal is to increase customer traffic I am confident that a new media approach would be far more effective.
A very simple example would be to extend the online component of Starbucks' previous "Chain-of-cheer" campaign where they passed out gift cards and subway passes in hopes that you would in turn do something nice for someone else. Great concept, and they had a website where you could login and track your chain of cheer. However, the effort was geographically limited. The simple solution would be to activate this campaign nationally and globally by activating Starbucks lovers online through social tools like Social Networking Sites, Twitter, etc. Take this one step further and partner with multiple charities (Maybe even to increase working wages for coffee farmers?) where people can pledge $1 and pass it on to their friends who also pledge $1. A campaign like this has the added benefit of expanding outside traditional Starbucks customers and humanizing the brand to their critics who traditionally charge Starbucks of being an uncaring corporate behemoth bankrupting mom & pop shops and enslaving coffee growers.
By embracing new media, and talking to consumers on a personal level, Starbucks can still preserve their place, at least in my mind, as my corner coffee shop - perhaps it is just a manifestation of denial that somehow I believe my Starbucks is unique. Then again it might just be that there is a lot of terrible coffee being doled out by delis in New York.
Can you think of any other brands that don't advertise yet are extreme successful? Or, companies that can do a better job of embracing social media? How can Starbucks better leverage social media tools?
UPDATE: I wrote this post before the TV ads broke and Starbucks has chosen to go with the "Pass The Cheer" theme again. Why not build online activation touch points around the TV efforts? That said the ads have a great look to them and you can see them all here.
UPDATE #2: BrandAutopsy just posted a fantastic series of archived posts on this subject.
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Guided by his passion and thirst to evolve the ad-scape, Seni developed The Ad-Vocate. The key to igniting change is empowerment through knowledge; thus, Seni sought to create a location where students and young professionals could be exposed to the cutting edge advertising/marketing ideas that educational institutions simply aren't providing.
Seni Thomas was born in Tokyo, Japan and lived throughout Southeast Asia before settling down on the island of Maui. After enduring a severe case of Island Fever he jumped ship to NYU's Stern School of Business in good old New York City studying Marketing and International Business. Professionally he is driven by an entrepreneurial spirit which led to him founding a web development and computer repair company at 14. After a quarter life crisis at 15 - after a summer working 40 hours a week at Boeing R&D on Maui - he decided to pursue his other passion of marketing - essentially the study of people and why these crazy creatures do what they do. Interesting stuff. Since then he has dabbled in everything from launching Alternate Reality Games, to ethnic fashion marketing, to in-game ad placement at Massive Inc., to aiding in the launch of Verizon's FiOS television service.
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