First, a confession: I really like Starbucks’ new ad campaign. When you Google it, you find a lot of people sneering at it. They find it pompous, overbearing, supercilious, and so forth. Everything that people who don’t like Starbucks don’t like about Starbucks comes into play.
But me, I love Starbucks. So when those ads — which I first saw in The New Yorker recently — say things like “If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, you must not be in a Starbucks,” I just think, that’s absolutely true. Other people think it’s obnoxious.
But as I said, I love Starbucks. There was a time when I was prepared not to. Back when I was not a coffee drinker, back when I avoided caffeine (and fell asleep a lot in meetings), I bought into the anti-Starbucks propaganda. When Starbucks replaced the Joyful Alternative in Five Points, I sneered along with all the others at the supreme irony of that venerable head shop (which, let’s face it, had since its early-70s heyday morphed into more of a boutique) with the perfectly symbolic name being displaced by this ultimate, soul-less cookie-cutter corporation that was trying to take over the world, yadda-yadda.
Of course, at the time, I had never been in a Starbucks, much less tried the coffee.
My conversion began in New York City in 2004. I was there to write about the Republican National Convention. National political conventions will wear you out if you’re a delegate, with delegation meetings, the plenary sessions, the parties, the sightseeing, the shopping, and more parties. No one ever gets a full night’s sleep at a convention. For journalists, it’s worse. You’re imbedded with a delegation, and you try to be there for everything they experience. Then, when they’re grabbing a nap, you write. You also branch out and check out newsworthy things that the delegates don’t do. Two-four hours sleep at night is about par.
There was a Starbucks near my hotel (of course; there’s one on practically every block in Manhattan), so I fell into the habit of grabbing a tall House Blend before I’d sit down to the laptop in my room. A House Blend with several Sugars in the Raw, because my palate had not yet adjusted to enjoying coffee in its own right.
As time wore on, I got more and more into it. Starbucks coffee is inextricably tied up with the early days of my first blog. One of my favorite early blog posts, headlined “The Caffeine Also Rises,” was — while not technically written in a Starbucks, but in a Barnes & Noble, was nevertheless written on Starbucks coffee, which B&N proudly serves — written on a coffee high. An excerpt:
This is blogging. This is the true blogging, el blogando verdadero, con afición, the kind a man wants if he is a man. The kind that Jake and Lady Brett might have done, if they’d had wi-fi hotspots in the Montparnasse.
What brings this on is that I am writing standing up, Hemingway-style, at the counter in a cafe. But there is nothing romantic about this, which the old man would appreciate. Sort of. This isn’t his kind of cafe. It’s not a cafe he could ever have dreamed of. It’s a Starbucks in the middle of a Barnes and Noble (sorry, Rhett, but I’m out of town today, and there’s no Happy Bookseller here). About the one good and true thing that can be said in favor of being in this place at this time is that there is basically no chance of running into Gertrude Stein here. Or Alice, either.
I’m standing because there are no electrical outlets near the tables, just here at the counter. And trying to sit on one of these high stools and type kills my shoulders. No, it’s not my wound from the Great War, just middle age….
In those early days, blogging and Starbucks coffee sort of went together like Kerouac’s continuous rolls of butcher paper and benzedrine. But in a good way…
Over time, I quit taking the sugar, because it got in the way of the wonderful taste of the coffee. House Blend. Komodo Dragon. Sidami. Gold Coast. Verona (my favorite). Even the ubiquitous Pike Place. They’re all wonderful.
But beyond that, there’s the Starbucks experience. Yeah, it’s all based in a conscious marketing strategy, but it’s a strategy based on good stuff that works. For me, anyway. First, there’s the smell, which immediately makes you glad you’re there, and makes everything else about the place more pleasant. Each Starbucks is both warm and cool, in all the positive senses of those words. The music is pleasant, and chosen with enough thought and originality to rise miles above the stuff you hear in most stores. Everything is nicer in a Starbucks. Women are more beautiful, for instance. No, I don’t think they are objectively more beautiful; they just seem that way. It probably all arises from the smell, but the rush after you get started on that first cup probably plays a role, too.
The whole thing just works. It works to an extent that if I were ever to endorse a product for money, the one I could endorse more wholeheartedly than almost any other would be Starbucks.
For a couple of years, I’ve had this idea, which I would pitch to someone at Starbucks if I knew how to get in touch with the right person. Basically, it would be to have Starbucks sponsor my blog. And in return for lots of free, gratuitous mentions of how wonderful Starbucks is, I would get a nice chunk of change and all the coffee I want.
I would spend a couple of hours a couple of times a week blogging live from different Starbucks stores, with my Webcam on. I could do impromptu interviews with the people who come and go (and at the Gervais St. store, there’s almost always someone newsworthy to chat with), and otherwise share the experience while blending blog and product. This I could do with no ethical qualms at all, because my love of the product would be completely unfeigned.
There are a couple of problems with this idea, I’ll admit. First, I’ve seen no sign that anything like this fits into the Starbucks marketing plan. Second, I have no idea how to find the right person to pitch it to.
So I’ll just post it here, and refer to it from Twitter. Starbucks is one of my followers on Twitter, so there is an extremely thin chance that it will get to the right person, and an even thinner one that said person will like it. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Why am I passively pitching this now? Because I’m about to try to start selling advertising on my blog. I don’t know how or whether that will work, or whether it will be worth the bother, but I thought I might as well give it a try. And Starbucks would sort of be my dream client.