This exam week, two things are in short supply – sleep and coffee. After you down your triple-shot vanilla iced cappuccino, you eventually have to go back to the barista to get a fill-up. Where do you go? Bespoke? PCJ? Grinders? Bitty & Beau’s? No matter what shop you name, I can guarantee that shop was influenced by the one and only coffee juggernaut – Starbucks.
Starbucks is a champion in all things IMC. From branding to messaging, everyone’s favorite barista bistro has built itself on the backs of everything we study in IMC. Starbucks has transformed itself, its coffee, and even its industry in order to work effectively in IMC.
1: The Coffee Industry
Starbucks has less branded itself and more branded the entirety of its marketplace. Coffee shops before Starbucks weren’t necessarily the places of social progress and revolution that we see in today’s coffee shops. During the 60’s and 70’s, the coffee industry realized that its young buyers weren’t resonating with their work-focused “buy to caffeinate” message. In order to win the demographic back, Starbucks and other chains focused on the social justice and environmental trends in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and promised that buying their coffee would (somehow) help the environment, or help veterans and homeless people find jobs. It worked, and business soared to peak levels, and influencing coffeeshops forever. Now, it’s hard to go to a coffeeshop that doesn’t have some sort of socially progressive message, from single-sourced, organic grounds, to events that promise to donate 50% of the profits to non-profits.
2: The Unicorn Frappuccino
Let’s take the infamous Unicorn Frappuccino as our example. Starbucks announced this wacky looking drink earlier this year, garnering a massive amount of attention. Its uniqueness caused quite a stir. Consumers flocked to their nearby Starbucks to try this once-in-a-lifetime drink for themselves to immense disappointment: it tasted terrible. This only worked in Starbucks’ favor though, as sales continued to skyrocket due to people telling their friends how absolutely terrible the drink is, only solidifying everyone’s need to try it for themselves. “There’s no way it’s THAT bad”, and “I wanna try it, maybe I’ll like it!” were some of the thoughts on people’s minds that day, only to lead to bitter disappointment. The fleeting nature of the event was perfect for something like this, where the drink doesn’t affect Starbucks’ brand too much, and the messaging and virality can bring in more customers than any flavored latte ever could.
3: Viral Beverages
Besides the Unicorn Frappuccino, Starbucks comes up with other, better, beverages and products. Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Puppuccinos are some of these. Pumpkin Spice Latte season is something that coffee lovers celebrate every year. The first day of Pumpkin Spice Latte is a veritable holiday, with customers rushing in to welcome the flavor back. For precision, this year’s Facebook post on the return of pumpkin spice got 78 thousand likes, 11 thousand comments, and 7.4 thousand shares, compared to their post on the Holiday Spice Flat White, which received 33 thousand likes, 1.5 thousand comments, and 1.3 thousand shares.
Besides that, Starbucks Puppuccinos (a FREE small cup filled with whipped cream offered to dogs) are a successful marketing tool for the company. The much loved treat for our four-legged friends have been a smash hit for Starbucks ever since their inception. Starbucks’ Puppuccinos generate adorable (and often viral) snapchats, videos, and gifs, like this one:
Starbucks has built itself on its brand and IMC principles, allowing it to soar and claim its place at the top of the coffeeshop heap. Only time will tell if it stays there, but as long as Starbucks stays true to IMC and its base, I believe Starbucks will be around for good.