Small Agency Diary

Starbuck-ing the Trend With TV

It's Not Regression; It's a Marketing Evolution

By Published on .

Doug DeGrood Doug deGrood
I nearly spit out my morning skinny half-caf no-whip latte when I read the news. Starbucks is reportedly launching its first-ever TV campaign.

Starbucks, the single greatest viral effort since Christianity, suddenly feels the need to go mainstream commercial and reach out to the masses on TV. You know, that antiquated appliance that nobody watches anymore, or if they do watch, they zap the commercial pests with their digital insecticide, the DVR.

What could cause such an act of marketing regression? Pretty simple, really. Visits are down as a result of increased competition. That, and -- no doubt -- people are finally adequately caffeinated and have woken up to the fact they're paying $3 for a 30-cent cup of coffee.

But still, TV? After all, Starbucks has more commercial presence via its storefronts than anybody -- except maybe Paris Hilton. Most marketing wonks will tell you retail is the new battlefront in the battle of the brands. Look at Trader Joes. If you build it, they will come. And better yet, they'll tell all their friends to come, too.

Then there's the never-ending Starbucks coffee cups on parade, which features the multitudes of on-the-go professionals with their stylishly designed cardboard cups permanently affixed to their drinking hand who insist that their hot brown liquid come from Starbucks and Starbucks only. Hot brown liquid from any other hot-brown-liquid purveyor just wouldn't be the same.

Starbucks has long been the envy of every modern marketer. It's nailed the retail brand experience thing. It's nailed the customer affinity thing. It's seemingly got it all going. But still, it would now appear, something is missing.

Well, it just goes to show you no wave rolls on forever. At some point, it hits a breaker. And then you have to start the wave all over again. But you can't always rely on exactly the same methods of propulsion.

In this case, Starbucks is banking on TV, which is still the single-greatest source of eyeballs in an increasingly fragmented media landscape. When you have as many stores to fill as Starbucks, where else would you go? Starbucks the Movie?

Of course, Starbucks has sold enough over-priced coffee to fund such a campaign. TV rates continue to climb, even though the total number of viewers continues to decline. But can you blame TV for trying to make hay while the sun shines?

Lest you think I'm some Luddite trying to make the case for TV, I'm not. (Well, I sort of am a Luddite.) Frankly, I think Starbucks would do well with radio. It not only offers mass reach, but it's also timely -- you're in your car on your way to work, you need a cup o' hot brown liquid to get it up for another day of slaving for the man.

I was personally blown away by a guerilla campaign Starbucks did a couple years ago. Magnetic Starbucks coffee cups were stuck to the roofs of New York City taxi cabs with some message about needing caffeine to be alert. Very, very cool . . . for the 187 people who actually saw it.

Point is, when you're a mass brand, guerilla isn't enough. YouTube videos aren't enough. And, apparently, having 39 storefronts in a four-block radius isn't enough

But enough of that. I need another cup of coffee. I've got a lot of media outlets to engage with today.

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Doug deGrood is creative director of Gabriel deGrood Bendt, Minneapolis
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