Did you hear the one about Seattle's Best? In one of the more
ambitious social-media plays in recent memory, the brand is
engaging in improvisational comedy on Facebook with skits
custom-tailored for people who "like" it.
To promote its new Levels coffee system, the Starbucks
subsidiary is hosting a live 24-hour show dubbed the "Declare Your
Level Show" with famed troupe Second City. "We wanted an exciting,
big launch," said Michelle Gass, Seattle's Best president, of the
company's largest-ever campaign. "The spirit of this brand is to
create a disruptive idea that builds emotional connection to the
brand. It's not about saying, it's about doing. Why not make it fun
with this 24-hour comedy idea?"
Seattle's Best rolls out its 'Declare Your Level' campaign.
Here's how it works: Those who like Seattle's Best on Facebook
will be prompted to enter contact information and choose which
level of its new coffee line they prefer. Upon declaring a level,
users will see a pre-recorded short video from the Second City
actors related to the coffee level they choose. They will then be
placed in a queue to be part of about 1,000 live sketches expected
to be performed during the 24-hour period. User participation will
be similar to typical improv-comedy shows, with audience members
asked to call out (in this case, type in) responses to open-ended
coffee-related questions such as "My hobbies are ____," "Coffee
makes me think of _____" and "I drink my coffee with _____."
Users' information will then be submitted to the live actors who
will improvise bits -- anything from a sketch to a one-line joke to
a song -- that will be personalized for each user whose information
was included. Once the bits are complete, on-site editors will edit
them, and through technology developed by social-media technology
company Vitrue, they will then show up on the user's Facebook wall.
(Seattle's Best said it's the first time the technology to do so is
available.) The marketer will also post the videos on its YouTube
Throughout the 24-hour period, there will be 21 Second City
actors and five directors in rotating shifts. The event will start
at noon Central time Wednesday, ending Thursday at noon.
The first 100,000 Facebook users to declare their favorite
coffee level -- Level 1, the lightest flavor, through Level 5, the
boldest -- will get a free sample of the coffee level they chose.
The next 500,000 will receive a coupon for Seattle's Best
The "Declare Your Level Show" was developed by Seattle's Best ad
agency, Creature, and Zeno Group, its PR and social-media agency.
"The coffee category is serious and technical, and we felt like
there was a place for this to be fun and approachable," said Robson
Grieve, president of Creature. "Improv comedy is perfect -- it's
personal and it's about people participating."
Tracey Thiele, senior VP of Zeno Digital, said Seattle's Best
"wanted this to be unique from a consumer perspective. We wanted
people to get something that was built for them."
Until now, Seattle's Best had not had a strong social-media
presence -- it has about 70,000 fans on Facebook -- but via the
"Declare Your Level Show" the company hopes to significantly
increase its number of fans.
To promote the new-media event, Seattle's Best will place a
one-time call-to-action ad in Tuesday's USA Today, along with using
social media and bloggers to generate interest and drive consumers
to its Facebook page.
Seattle's Best Coffee: The Declare Your Level Show
Otherwise, the Levels effort will omit TV altogether, instead
relying heavily on ads in lifestyle magazines such as O, the Oprah
Magazine and Real Simple; free-standing inserts; social media; and
a significant in-store marketing campaign.
The company's ad spending increased dramatically in 2010, up to
about $4.9 million from about $62,000 in 2009, according to Kantar.
Seattle's Best historically had done very little advertising, and
the company said that ad spending in 2011 has increased
significantly over 2010, but declined to provide an estimate.
Seattle's Best was bought by Starbucks in 2003, but the brand
had been relatively dormant during the first several years of
ownership. Starbucks President-CEO Howard 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.
Like Starbucks, Seattle's Best has been looking to aggressively
expand its business. Ms. Gass said that since the introduction of
the Levels system, a number of retailers have expanded distribution
deals, so that now the packaged-coffee brand is available at 21,000
locations. She added that interest level among existing and
would-be franchisees is up "tenfold." "Seattle's Best is right up
there in terms of billion-dollar opportunities" for Starbucks, she
While the company declined to provide sales figures, Ms. Gass
said that Seattle's Best has seen "double-digit sales growth over
last two years." On the retail front, Seattle's Best is testing a
coffee-bar concept with discount retailer Walmart in suburban
Toronto. The chain also plans to expand the coffee-bar concept in
the U.S. -- everything from standalone cafés to in-store
Because of bookstore Borders' bankruptcy, which will result in
the company closing hundreds of its retail locations where
Seattle's Best is served, the brand now only has about 350
locations in the U.S. and Canada. It had about 550 locations prior
to the Borders closings, but the company said it is aggressively
growing its franchise business.
Seattle's Best has already expanded its foodservice business
significantly. In February, it announced a deal with Delta Air
Lines, wherein Seattle's Best coffee will be served onboard all
flights. Last year it announced it would have retail relationships
with Burger King and Subway and AMC, bringing the number of
locations where Seattle's Best brewed coffee is available to
Maureen covers agencies as well as all things mobile, including the carriers, handsets and advertising, for Ad Age out of San Francisco. She previously wrote about the marketing of the fast food industry for Ad Age while also covering the agency world. Before entering reporting, she was Ad Age's research editor, helping lead research and analysis for the publication's reports including the Agency Report, Leading National Advertisers and 100 Leading Media Companies.