Starbucks, which would not say how much its campaign will cost, says it is not losing coffee drinkers to McDonald’s. Rather, its customers, in trying to save money, have been cutting back on its espresso concoctions. Same-store sales were down 8 percent in the first three months of the year.
The competition, said Terry Davenport, chief marketing officer at Starbucks, “is trying to just commoditize coffee and take it down to a level where all coffee’s the same, and if coffee’s coffee, you might as well buy the cheap stuff.”
He added, “We just don’t believe that to be true. That’s why we wanted to tell our stories.”
Some coffee drinkers in the new generation see Starbucks coffee as a commodity, too, having grown up with a store on every corner. “All they know is Starbucks, the big company,” so the ads seek to highlight the quality of the coffee, Mr. Davenport said.
Starbucks’s text-heavy ads have bold headlines written on a background that looks like a burlap coffee sack, meant to evoke roasted coffee, said David Lubars, chief creative officer of BBDO North America, the agency that created the campaign and part of the Omnicom Group.
The full-page newspaper ads go to some length to describe how Starbucks selects only the best 3 percent of beans and roasts them until they pop twice, and gives its part-time workers health insurance.
Starbucks chose the copy-filled ads, which were popular in the 1960s and 1970s, because it wanted to put its full story out, Mr. Davenport said. “Even if you cruise by and don’t stop to read every word, the net impression is, ‘Wow, Starbucks has a lot to say about coffee.’”
That might not be the right strategy for young people, said Richard Honack, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Unlike Starbucks’ older customers, “Generation Y goes to Starbucks for the Internet, the music, a place to hang out,” he said. “Selling them the coffee and where the coffee comes from? I just don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
The idea for the Starbucks photo contest came from watching what people already do on Facebook and Twitter, said Chris Bruzzo, vice president for brand, content and online at Starbucks. Each year, people race to post the first photos of Starbucks shops decorated in red for the holidays, he said, and on Flickr, people vie to post photos that include multiple Starbucks stores in the same shot.
“It shows a level of connection to our brand that we wouldn’t have concocted on our own,” Mr. Bruzzo said.
Starbucks has other social media initiatives planned for this campaign, including a contest for Starbucks store employees to submit headlines for future ads and YouTube videos with coffee experts talking about Starbucks coffee.
Starbucks says it thinks its campaign will be helped by its 1.5 million fans on Facebook and 183,000 followers on Twitter. On the Saturday before the presidential election, Starbucks sponsored a single 60-second television commercial on advertising a coffee giveaway on Election Day. Starbucks then posted the video online. By Tuesday, it was the fourth-most-viewed video on YouTube, and people were mentioning Starbucks on Twitter every eight seconds.
Still, it is difficult to measure the effects of social media — a follower on Twitter does not necessarily translate to a daily Frappuccino drinker.
Mr. Bruzzo said Starbucks’ social media presence gave it an advantage over competitors with gigantic ad budgets because its fans wanted to talk about it online. “It’s the difference between launching with many millions of dollars versus millions of fans.”
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