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Starbucks Ad Campaign: What Happened?

Starbucks has finally fired back against the blows that fast-food competitors like McDonald’s have dealt at the ubiquitous giant and rightfully so. But how did they choose to set themselves apart from their rivals? A large, big-money ad campaign! You can read about the campaign anywhere, so I won’t waste your time with recycled news. Instead, I’d like to express what I feel has brought us to this point.

A long, long time ago, Starbucks became a part of our daily routine, whether it was to grab a quick latte on the way to work, or to meet with friends and soak in the ambiance in the evenings. Starbucks was more than coffee, it was an intimate experience where stress was checked at the door.

Starbucks made little more than coffee drinks, and they did it well. Half of their counter was dedicated to selling the beans that made them famous, the other half was where espresso was made into an art form. The staff was educated and enthusiastic about the heritage and craftsmanship of coffee, in a cafe laid out in such a manner that you could almost feel like there was no place quite like it anywhere else. Over those years, my daughter and I made Starbucks a place where we could just hang out and talk about life, her with her Frappuccino, and me with my iced-quad-venti-nonfat-caramel-macchiato.

I even spent a while working at a Starbucks. In that time my passion for coffee led me to earn a black apron. If you’re not sure what that is, Google will help.

Give the people what they want.

Give the people what they want.

Things have certainly changed. If you walk into a Starbucks today, you’ll see that the whole bean counter has been removed, to make room for toaster ovens where you can get a sandwich with your drink. Don’t care for coffee? No problem. You can now choose from a wide array of bland smoothies, waters, or even no drink at all. The environment that once made us feel at home is now cluttered with clearance retail and, to keep up with the times, CDs.

Starbucks has grown into the “pack ’em in” fast-food enterprise that they were once the very antithesis of. And now, to further homogenize themselves in the bland corporate mix, they have their own ad campaign. Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re feeling the economic and competitive pinch. Hopefully, it will wake them up to what made them great in the first place and stick to only that, because no one wants to see Starbucks and feel Walmart.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • Hey Patrick, good post as always. I see while you are right in the direction that Starbucks have taken, I also see that everyone began to copy their formula from Seattle’s Best, to Pete’s Coffee. Because of new hot careers at Starbucks attracted CPG brand execs from mass consumer brands, they brought in new genetics and new/different focuses to expand market share to the company. Yes they lost their focus.. but it was the pressure of profits beneath the friendly approachable brand that transformed them.

    Bringing this back to a personal level, we who are the marcom business have no way to stop such decisions. In fact, to keep our doors open, we gladly do all we can to make such brand shifts work, all the while we talk about the “mistakes” being made by the project/services company.

    Lang, ECD, infuz
    Twitter: @MATSNL65

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