October 10, 2008

Cafe Society

I've got mixed feelings about the Starbucks brand but I really like what they've done in their latest in-store poster campaign.

I say mixed feelings because my early experience of the brand in New York and other American cities was really good and I saw much to admire in the business philosophy and practices of a hardworking and thoughtful enterprise. Back in boomtown Dublin, I wondered why Starbucks hadn't made the short hop across the Irish Sea from England where it also seemed to enjoy considerable success.

When the brand did arrive here in Ireland, I was hugely underwhelmed. Where its overseas counterpart is smart and crisp, the Irish Starbucks seems sloppy and dishevelled. My abiding image of Starbucks in Dublin is of tables left stained and littered with the debris of the not-so-recently departed visitor.

All the while, many of the independent local coffee-shop brands deliver a much sharper offer and service that really put it up to the global blow-in.

On top of that, you may be surprised to learn that despite what I do for a living, I share with my countrymen something of an in-built suspicion of the big brands (and their shades of colonialism) so am reluctant to give them too much credit.

But Starbucks current posters, which proclaim 'WE'RE BIG on responsibly grown, ethically traded coffee' and 'WE'RE EVERYWHERE working with farmers to improve their coffee quality and standard of living', skilfully make a virtue of their enormous size and reach in a climate where many of us inclined to subscribe to Seth Godin's Small Is The New Big.

Through their smart messaging, it seems to me that Starbucks make a strong case for Big Being The New Small.

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