Nescafe Launches Assault on Starbucks' Instant Java

Outdoor Ads Play Up Price Difference Between Instant Coffees

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CHICAGO ( -- Nescafe has found something new to roast: Starbucks. The premium-java chain is launching a nationwide offensive into the instant-coffee market this fall, and Nestle is quick to point out the considerable price difference between it and Nescafe.

The style, copy and even typeface of the ads strongly resemble advertising for the Starbucks brand.
The style, copy and even typeface of the ads strongly resemble advertising for the Starbucks brand.
To counter Starbucks' test of Via instant coffee in Chicago and Seattle, Nescafe has launched an outdoor campaign in both cities via McCann Erickson, Los Angeles. One Chicago subway car, plastered in the ads, makes the price case this way: "Starbucks makes great instant. We make great instant. So why does theirs cost 400% more?" The last piece to the multipanel ad proclaims Nescafe's Taster's Choice as "the smart choice." The style, copy and even typeface strongly resemble advertising for the Starbucks brand and Starbucks Via.

Online tools
Nescafe has also taken the battle online. asserts that "Good coffee is not expensive." It offers a budget calculator and free samples and, borrowing from DDB Seattle's "UnSnobby Coffee" (built for McDonald's McCafe launch in Starbucks' hometown), urge consumers to stage a "coffee intervention."

"Given how much instant coffee has been in the news lately, we wanted our communications to remind people that with Nescafé they can enjoy a great-tasting, high-quality cup of coffee with a wide variety of blends and flavor options at the right price," Nescafe spokeswoman Pamela Krebs said in an e-mail. "There are other competitors who charge much more for a similar-quality coffee, and we would like to encourage people to prove for themselves that there are smarter options from which to choose."

In this recession, attack ads have become increasingly common. And they're likely to continue, as a number of the advertisers running with comparative campaigns have also reported subsequent sales increases.

Battleground is taste
With 70 years' experience and leadership in the instant-coffee market, Nescafe has the low-price perception sewn up, but the reputation for great taste is less certain. Earlier today, Zagat named Starbucks the "best coffee" in the quick-service industry.

"For us, it's about delivering a Starbucks-quality cup of coffee in an instant form," Starbucks spokeswoman Lara Wyss said of Via. "It's about never being without a great coffee to take on the go. That's how we think about it. It tastes exactly like our freshly brewed coffee." Starbucks has not compared Via, 20 years in the making, to the taste of its freeze-dried predecessors.

Ms. Wyss did, however, make the case that Via and Nescafe don't look same. Via, which is never frozen, comes as a silky powder, while other instants are freeze-dried and come as crystals. In response to the value question, she noted that Via is less expensive than a cup of Starbucks brewed coffee, at less than $1 a cup.

She added that Starbucks isn't preparing a response to Nescafe. The chain similarly gave McDonald's "UnSnobby Coffee" the cold shoulder. But recent newspaper ads, from BBDO, New York, haven't been lacking in venom. The long-form ads make Starbucks' case for its prices, in terms of the health care for its workers, commitment to the environment and fair trade with coffee farmers. Less-expensive coffee, the ads say, "comes with a price."

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