Starbucks has launched itself into a new marketing frenzy. In the US it is venturing into ‘Refresher’ energy drinks based on green coffee beans, juice bars and even toying with the idea of serving beers and wine.
In the UK, they have just introduced the already established policy in the US of asking you ‘what’s your name’ so they can dutifully write it on the cup along with the already exhausting list of choices you’ve gone through from the size and strength of your drink to whether you ‘want empty space with that’ (room for milk to you and me).
It’s meant to make us feel all warm and friendly, the personal touch in an impersonal world.
Stylised full page ads in the colour supplements this weekend scream at us ’10 seconds isn’t much to you and I but it’s a matter of life or death to a latte’. I never realised entering a coffee shop was the equivalent of a hot drink war zone, fraught with the possibility of corpsed caffeine casualties. Maybe there’s a sad little coffee crematorium somewhere out back for the ones that didn’t make it.
You can’t say Starbucks isn’t innovating, and of course it has to given the adage that you can’t walk more than five minutes now without coming across somewhere to buy coffee. Apparently in the UK we’re staying on edge with a staggering average lifetime spend in coffee shops of over £15,500 while last year coffee shop sales grew by 10%.
But is Starbucks’ ‘uber’ personalisation of the brand going just a bit too far for our slightly more restrained British tastes?
A quick straw poll round this office seemed to agree – writing your name on the cup would not endear us any more to Starbucks over any other coffee shop. We want a coffee, not a best friend. We want it quick and correct. We don’t want the barista to be distracted by whether it’s ‘Ian’ with an extra I or not, especially when they’ve already got the 10 second life and death latte scenario to contend with.
What if you have a hard to spell name? What if you’re a Saoirse or a Niamh? Or you hate it when someone spells your Karin not Karen. What if it all becomes so complicated they give you a decaff by mistake instead of hardcore caffeine – a failure of epic proportions first thing in the morning.
Most of us are queuing for our take out, cup-shaped comfort blanket because we’ve made an early start, we’re tired, we’re addicted or we’re just in need of a hot drink on a cold day. We don’t want a conversation or extra seconds added on to queuing time. We want a coffee. Let’s hope Starbucks doesn’t get carried away with the marketing hype and loses sight of the core business – literally – in hand.