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Worst Brand Concept Ever?

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July 30, 2009 – Comments (13) | RELATED TICKERS: SBUX , WMT

Starbucks recently announced their concept for a new neighborhood coffee shop: 15th Ave Coffee& Tea.

I have to admit, I thought it was a horrible idea from the start. Kind of reminds me of Wal-Mart realizing they’re driving local mom and pop stores out of small towns and deciding to open up a series of separately branded smaller stores under a different guise. Just feels a bit dishonest.

Segue to this fantastic analysis of the situation.

Basically calls Starbucks out for 15th Avenue being fundamentally dishonest. I personally agree with his points, they’re not fooling anyone. If they need to go to such extreme measures to remove their brand, why try for this concept in the first place?

Bonus hilarious part of the website he doesn’t mention. I love how Starbucks has the company use a “gmail” address. *Vomit*. Don’t you love it where marketers take pains to look non-corporate, but only exacerbate the situation? I'm picturing how the idea came to fruition...

Brainstorming session:

Executive 1: So… we need to emphasize that this isn’t Starbucks in any way whatsoever, give me ideas people.

Executive 2: Polls show a naked merman on the coffee sleeve would provide 8.2% more brand equity than our current mermaid model!

Executive 1: No! We need to move away from Starbucks!

Executive 3: Now, I might just be some slick-talking corporate marketing executive, but I hear kids love this Google toy these days. I personally use a private Google account to hide my obsessive-compulsive habit of collecting vintage cookie jars on eBay from my wife who reads my Blackberry while I sleep.

Executive 1: Great plan Executive 3… We’ll create a fake Google address to trick consumers… They’ll never suspect we’re related to Starbucks and we’ll gain street cred by faking the fact we don’t have some enormous 1,000 person IT staff and must rely on free gmail accounts…. JUST LIKE A SMALL STREET CORNER COFFEE SHOP!

Executive 2: Flash poll, immediate focus group results are coming in, they estimate the gmail account gives us 4.3% more credibility.

Executive 1: *Evil Cackling ensues…* Begin expanding our new neighborhood coffee shop at an unsustainable rate!

Random Janitor In The Room: Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of a neighborhood coffee shop? Aren’t you just creating another Starbucks-like brand and defeating your original intent?

Executive 1: *Throws a chair at the janitor, forcing him to flee*

Executive 2: Teenagers find images 32% more attractive when violence is incorporated. New store concept, arming baristas with Uzis. Would you like an extra SHOT with that? *Begins cackling like a Banshee*

Executive 1: Brilliant, that’ll be the next move on our agenda…

Executive 3: *Already zoned out of the meeting and is surfing eBay *

 

Not that I don’t personally like Starbucks and feel as though they’ve actually helped small coffee shops by creating the idea of “premium” coffee, I just think this is a poor idea and executed even more poorly.

 

-- Eric (TMFRhino)

13 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On July 30, 2009 at 11:19 AM, TMFTwitty (87.21) wrote:

Gosh, maybe if they wanted to put a lot of distance between 15th Ave and Starbucks, it shouldn't have been announced by Starbucks...

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#2) On July 30, 2009 at 11:20 AM, chk999 (99.97) wrote:

Actually I think the "Home Neurosurgery" kit was a worse one.

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#3) On July 30, 2009 at 11:33 AM, TMFGreenwave (30.10) wrote:

I like that they spent so much time carefully crafting that website to have no trace of Starbucks...and then they list a Starbucks branded coffee as one of their offerings.

Caffè Verona® and Decaf Caffè Verona®

Origin:Latin America Asia Pacific Regions

Elevation:1800-2000 metersProcessing:Washed and semi washed

Description:A full-bodied blend of Latin American and Asia/Pacific coffees, with 20% Italian Roast for added depth and sweetness.

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#4) On July 30, 2009 at 11:42 AM, madcowmonkey (< 20) wrote:

Does sbux offer beer and wine? Nice addition and never tried the coffee, so who knows if it is any better or worse, but the idea a big company creates a smaller knockoff version of itself without letting it's customers know sounds a little ridiculous. Either way, I am sure I will not see a 15th ave for a while.

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#5) On July 30, 2009 at 11:42 AM, TMFRhino (97.94) wrote:

http://www.starbucksstore.com/products/shprodde.asp?SKU=312990

Link to the Starbucks version of Verona. Wow... Just really sloppy execution there.

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#6) On July 30, 2009 at 12:14 PM, JustSavvy (97.97) wrote:

I also enjoyed clicking the store's address. That took me on an exciting ride to Google Maps, where i was confronted with a street view of a giant STARBUCKS COFFEE sign.

 

Maybe they should use that gmail account's leverage to get The Google to change the streetview picture so they can hide their secret identity....hehe.

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#7) On July 30, 2009 at 12:51 PM, TMFLomax (44.44) wrote:

I wrote about this on July 16. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2009/07/16/starbucks-plays-the-name-game.aspx

I wasn't nearly as snarky as the guy at Harvard Business blog though. I'm glad Starbucks is trying new things BUT... yeah, this is pretty dishonest and clueless really.  I think the conclusion of my original article sounded a bit like I was defending this... which wasn't what I intended; it is definitely interesting that it would do something this weird and it does need to try to think of new things. But I said this in the article:

"However, the "stealth Starbucks" approach could also backfire in a big way. Smart, cynical consumers may be horrified to suddenly realize that their beloved 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is just one more corporate clone. Consumers don't like feeling tricked or duped. And I'm sure a lot of independent coffee shops would be quite vocal in exposing Starbucks' masquerade."

Seems like that's what is happening, ha. At some point too, I said in the article that it looks like Starbucks is ashamed of something. What? I mean the truth is, there are a lot of things it does for communities and employees that the independents cannot (not that I'm busting on independents, and there are a lot of people who only want to go to independents). Maybe it should focus on those positive things it can do because of its size. Call me crazy.

It's weird when the news first broke, it seemed like a lot of people were focusing more on the whole "booze" aspect, but that didn't seem to me nearly as bizarre as the whole "stealth" thing.

I also see somebody commented on my article that maybe this is just another concept, like Gap... maybe and that's an interesting point, but then again, I can't help but think Gap is one of the poster children for overexpansion... (and Eric I like your joke about that in your post, haha)...

And Eric, your "brainstorming session" -- that's hilarious, would you like a shot with that LOL...

Alyce (long Starbucks)

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#8) On July 30, 2009 at 1:19 PM, TMFRhino (97.94) wrote:

JustSavvy,

Yeah, the location was one of the "underperforming" Starbucks that they closed down to save costs, so that Google Street View picture is probably a couple months old.

Hilarious nonetheless!

--Eric

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#9) On July 30, 2009 at 4:03 PM, TheClub55 (< 20) wrote:

Starbucks has already created a sub-brand that is HUGE!!!! Its called Seattle’s Best Coffee (SBC) and they only mention that Starbucks if the owner of parent company called Seattle’s Best Coffee Company, in small print.  I’ve actually heard people in Seattle’s best talk about how they like to stay away from Starbucks and the prices are better at SBC, then it make me giggle inside when I rudely interrupt and state SBC is actually owned by Starbuck.  

 

So, they already have the Old Navy version of a coffee shop, I am guessing 15th Ave is the Banana Republic version… good luck selling $7 coffees w/ a shot of Irish Cream in this market!

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#10) On July 30, 2009 at 5:14 PM, TMFRhino (97.94) wrote:

TheClub,

To be fair, they didn't "create" SBC, it was acquired and they haven't phased out the brand. Also, the prices are fairly comparable, so I wouldn't exactly call it their version of Old Navy.

Still though, interesting they've kept it as a seperate brand.

- Eric

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#11) On July 31, 2009 at 7:39 AM, toopersent (82.54) wrote:

Why is this so deplorable?  I admit, the gmail account is a smidge tacky, but c'mon.  Corporations have been doing this for a long time.  They couldn't very well open up a new, completely different looking store that catered to a different crowd and then just call it Starbucks II, or Club Starbucks or what have you.  That different crowd would see the mermaid, stick up their nose, and walk past pithily into the arms of the next guy. 

No, that would not do! 

Instead, being as how they ARE a corporation, they have to make money for shareholders.  In this economy, you have to be innovative to make money, wether you produce the next wonder drug or a regular cup o' joe.  I applaud SBUX for trying to branch out and give us something different.  They are refusing to be stagnant in the best way possible; not rebranding, but new-branding.  I hope it works.  At the very least, it will create some more jobs.  

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#12) On July 31, 2009 at 8:46 AM, DownEscalator (< 20) wrote:

It's deplorable because the value of an independent, locally-owned coffee house is that it is independent and locally-owned.  If it's owned by Starbucks, it has no value, but if they're trying to sell it as an independent, locally-owned coffee house, they're essentially duping consumers.  This is in no way similar to Old Navy/Gap.  Old Navy's advantage on Gap is entirely in pricing.  Not so in the coffee business.  Starbucks CAN'T be this characteristic because of who they are.

What if Nissan bought the American Motors marquee and started selling "American" cars?  On some products, part of the value is that thing x is NOT thing y, and if thing y passes itself off as x, that's wrong.

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#13) On July 31, 2009 at 12:56 PM, garyc27 (< 20) wrote:

I recall Home Depot, in 1999, tried a similar idea to takeover the remaining mom and pop hardware market with Villager's Hardware stores.  Many closed or became a "smaller" versions of Home Depot.

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