Apr 17, 2006

The Starbucks Effect?

If it’s not love, then it’s Starbucks that will bring us together (sorry, Morrissey). At least that’s what Bryant Simon and Jonathan Morris, British historians, seems to think.

According to Morris, coffee culture unites us while enabling us to continue to self-isolate:

Starbucks and other coffee houses, he believes, fill "some kind of deep desire for connection with other people."

But unlike the coffee houses of 18th century London or the bohemian java dens of 1950s New York, "Starbucks makes sure you can be alone when you're out if you really need to be," he said. "You get the feeling you're out in public, but you don't need to talk to anyone."
Simon’s conducting a study of the globalization of 21st-century coffee culture, and has visited more than 300 SBUX locations throughout the world. Through his observations, he believes that SBUX provides a glimpse into “what it means to live and consume in the age of globalization.”

Can it be that the popularity of SBUX transcends the quality of the coffee that they sell?

Simon believes Starbucks succeeds by "selling comfort" in an anonymous, often dislocating world. He says he has lost track of the number of times people have told him that when they traveled to a strange country, "the first thing I did when I got off the plane was go to Starbucks."

"There's a deep sense of unpredictability in the modern world, and what Starbucks provides a lot of people is predictability," he said.
And with predictability comes more marketability, and with more marketability comes the inevitable entry into pop culture.
Starbucks's chairman, Howard Schultz, told shareholders at their annual meeting Feb. 8 that the company is focusing on "the Starbucks effect" — that is, putting a bigger emphasis on music sales, movie marketing and other non-coffee products.
From a corporate perspective, does the “academia effect” mean that you’ve “arrived” as a company?

In terms of their study, I think it’d be better if these historians looked at café culture as a whole, rather than focus on one brand. But then again, I can see that they probably want to limit to one brand, precisely because it is so pervasive.

And what does this say about our society as a whole if one of the places by which we derive a sense of community from is a huge coffee chain? And what does it say about our society that this one brand has become so inextricably a part of our lives? (Well, for some of us, anyway.) This brand is even the subject of an upcoming movie starring Tom Hanks, for Jah's sake.

It’s certainly easier to focus on SBUX because they’re everywhere – but how about focusing on selling a quality product rather than getting a larger share of my wallet?


seamus said...

I know that as long ago as 10 years ago, I remember reading about Schultz's desire to make Starbucks into a "third place" between home & work for people. Given that people are less likely to have other civic/community forums to associate with other people, that makes sense.

Starbucks, for that matter, has been deeply responsible for the expansion of "cafe culture" since the early '90s. As Starbucks has grown, the number of *other* coffee shops has exploded in America. So the Starbucks Effect isn't just about coffee, it's about the expansion of lifestyle marketing in general.

Personally, I prefer Peet's, but I like what Starbucks has done. Think about how hard it was get a good cup of coffee in most places in the US before they existed.

Kvatch said...

Can it be that the popularity of SBUX transcends the quality of the coffee that they sell?

What do you mean, "Can it be?" :-) It is almost certainly the case. Their coffee is what I would refer to as "weak-ass swill". I mean how can you repect place that has replaced all of their barristas with automated machines that dispense espresso with push-button simplicity.

They've got to be doing something right, but for me as well...it's Peets.

Viva la Barrista verdadero!

aherndon said...

I think it's all the cute little sayings on the Starbuck's cups. I mean who wouldn't bond over something like that?