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Seattle's Best Launches First Major Ad Campaign

Starbucks Sibling Wants to Be Seen as Approachable and Available

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CHICAGO ( -- Starbucks Corp. might be thinking "beyond coffee," as CEO Howard Schultz said by way of explaining its logo change, but sibling brand Seattle's Best is focused squarely on coffee -- anywhere it's needed.

The 'Anywhere Coffee Is Needed' campaign depicts people in unexpected situations and locations to illustrate the wide availability of the coffee.
The 'Anywhere Coffee Is Needed' campaign depicts people in unexpected situations and locations to illustrate the wide availability of the coffee.
That's the theme line behind Seattle's Best's first major branding campaign and first TV spot, which is aimed at both pointing out the availability of its brand and highlighting its "mass premium" appeal. The overarching campaign, which breaks today, touts a less-serious, fun approach to coffee, as well as a less-complex image compared with premium coffees in the market -- like Starbucks.

It's a big step forward for Seattle's Best, which has historically done very little advertising. "With Seattle's Best, there wasn't a true brand position, there wasn't emotional positioning," said Michelle Gass, president of Seattle's Best. "Starbucks is premium, and Seattle's Best is more of a mass premium. The new 'Levels' coffee system makes it really easy to position Seattle's best as mass premium, or approachable premium."

Seattle's Best was bought by Starbucks in 2003, and the brand and business had more or less been on autopilot, Ms. Gass said. Mr. Schultz recognized an opportunity to refurbish the brand and hired Ms. Gass in September 2009 to helm a separate business that housed Seattle's Best. Ms. Gass at the time was a 13-year Starbucks veteran and architect of the company's multibillion-dollar Frappucino franchise.

The "Anywhere Coffee Is Needed" campaign will include three 30-second spots that depict people in unexpected situations and locations to illustrate the wide availability of the coffee. Seattle's Best last year announced it would have retail relationships with Burger King and Subway in the U.S. and Canada, and AMC in the U.S., bringing the number of locations where Seattle's Best is available to 40,000. The company had previously existing relationships with Alaska Airlines, Borders bookstores and Caribbean Cruise Lines, among others.

The TV spots are slated to appear on cable networks such as Bravo, as well as online TV offerings like Hulu. While the bulk of the ad spending is on spots running on cable TV and digital media, there will also be online banner ads, print advertising and billboards. Seattle's Best declined to share the ad spending on the account, but Ms. Gass mentioned that it's "unprecedented levels of spending; a multimillion-dollar investment for the brand."

Seattle-based ad agency Creature developed the creative for the Seattle's Best overhaul -- everything from the logo redesign and its new Level system in December (to simplify its offerings, its varieties are named one through five that vary in flavor from mild to bold) to packaging design and the TV spots and billboards. Creature President Robson Grieve said there is an emphasis on the digital aspect of the campaign because it gives consumers a chance to engage more and share the ads with other consumers on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. "Engagement is important to us," he said. "Just having people exposed is great, but getting them engaged in the ads and allowing them to take this content and share it will build consumer connection with the brand."

Creature has done the media buying for this phase of the marketing push, but Seattle's Best plans to work with Omnicom's PHD in the future.

With Starbucks putting such a massive effort into revamping its Seattle's Best brand, will the two brands compete with each other or negatively affect sales? Darren Tristano, exec VP at Technomic, doesn't think so. "There will be some competition, but it won't be head to head," he said. "In the grocery aisle, you may see a bit of cannibalization, but more likely the share gain for Seattle's Best will come from other competitors, such as Folgers or Millstone."

Mr. Tristano also said Seattle's Best's strength lies in its relationships with companies such as Burger King and Subway. "They got customers that way that they would not have had previously. It's made them a more approachable brand, but they still have a high-quality image."

On the retail front, Seattle's Best is testing a coffee bar concept -- a small retail space that has a walk-up window and a bar -- with discount retailer Walmart in Canada's suburban Toronto. The coffee company will open up seven more coffee bars with Walmart in Canada. Seattle's Best also plans to expand the coffee-bar concept in the U.S., as both stand-alone stores and possibly with retailers in a setup similar to the Canadian test, though not necessarily with Walmart.

Seattle's Best has 550 stores in the U.S. and Canada -- mostly in Borders -- but the company is expanding its franchise initiative as part of an effort to grow the business. Seattle's Best has also been adding vending machines that grind beans and brew individual cups of coffee or cafe au lait; flavors can be added to both.

Outside North America, Seattle's Best has global ambitions. There are a few locations peppered throughout the U.K., but the company is looking into expanding its global presence further. There's also a Seattle's Best operation in the Philippines, but Starbucks does not own it -- it was not included in the 2003 purchase. The Philippine business does not have the new logo and identity, as that business is owned by Focus Brands.

Outside the U.S. and Canada, Burger King offers Seattle's Best in Singapore.

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