Starbucks Is Trying To Fix Its ‘Basic’ Image Problem

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Starbucks Is Trying To Fix It's Basic Image Problem

My friends like to joke about the caricature of a girl that is my perfect 11/10 match for me, and without fail this caricature of future Mrs. Brostonian is always sipping a coffee from Starbucks. Why? Because I’m destined to end up with a basic betch, and nothing gets me more amped than that thought. But for some reason, Starbucks is trying to overhaul their image. They think they’re too basic, and they’re trying to somehow change that for reasons I seem to not be able to get my head around.

Starbucks will go down in history books as the brand that made it OK to charge more than $2 for a cup of coffee. But its reputation as a higher-end coffee shop has faded — and that has the company worried…. ubiquity has started to threaten its upscale reputation. Starbucks is now competing with chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s. It has gotten, in a sense, too basic.

Wait, I’m confused. Starbucks is essentially worried that too many ragamuffins and guttersnipes are slugging venti pumpkin spice lattes? They’re not worried about being labeled “basic,” they’re worried about being labeled “peasant shit.” According to my primary research, this is just simply not the reality.

Growing up in Boston, I’ve had this sort of Mugatu-style brainwashing where I am supposed to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia have an undying brand loyalty to Dunkin Donuts. But a boy grew up and became a man-child, a basic one. And I’m sorry to Dunkin, but every hungover Saturday I do the same thing: glass of water, sunglasses, leave my apartment, walk past a Dunkin Donuts, hang a right, and enter a Starbucks. Why do I do this?

Quite simply, it’s the clientele. No aspersions cast to the Dunkin crowd – they perfectly encapsulate the hard hat and lunch pale blue collar persona of Boston – but I feel more at home in a Starbs. I basically go there because the people are sexier, and by default it makes me feel sexier by being there, kind of like a strength in numbers thing. College students, dudes doing business, twenty something’s on dates. These are who go to Starbucks.

And being a basic brand has not hurt their revenue. Far from it. Just take a look at Starbucks stock valuations. They continue to climb. Looking at their stock chart is like looking at a side view of Kilimanjaro. So why, then, is Starbucks spending millions to try and remove the “basic” label? Makes no sense.

Urban Dictionary defines “basic” as “an adjective used to describe any person, place, activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress, action. Unsophisticated. Transparent motives.” Describing someone as basic “has come to mean liking the things everyone else likes,” Fashionista writes. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Fashionista describes Starbucks as a core basic brand, along with The North Face, Lululemon, and Michael Kors. Sweet Starbucks beverages, especially the Pumpkin Spice Latte, are most closely associated with the pejorative term.

I’m still waiting to hear something undesirable. Seriously. If you’re sporting Lulu, North Face, and Michael Kors, with a Pike Place in hand, there’s a 110% chance I already have a crush on you. There’s NOTHING wrong with being a basic brand. And those brands aren’t cheap either, so I don’t see how you’re somehow toeing a line between comparisons to McDonald’s and Lululemon. You can be cheap, or you can be basic, but I don’t think you’re allowed to be both.

Widespread popularity is the “kiss of death for trendy … brands, particularly those positioned in the up-market younger consumer sectors,” industry expert Robin Lewis wrote in his blog in 2014. Lewis was discussing fashion, but the same idea applies to Starbucks. To continue to grow and maintain its coffee-snob approved status, the chain needs to make an active effort to retain its premium reputation.

Ah, the truth comes out. They don’t want to be cheap. They don’t want to be basic. They want to be regal. They want to be elite. For the 1%. And quite frankly, that will never happen. The clientele they are shooting for exclusively drink Kopi Luwak. Outside of charging $20 for ice water, I’m not so sure Starbucks can be as douchey as they want to. But I’ll humor them. How is Starbucks trying to shake up their image?

Starbucks is investing millions of dollars into fixing the problem by building Roasteries, introducing new menu items, and even creating original content. Starbucks has said the chain’s 15,000-square-foot Roastery in Seattle is a window into the future of the brand. Serving up drinks like the $10 Nitro Cold Brew Float, made with coffee roasted on location, the location is a testament to the coffee giant’s willingness to innovate in a constantly changing coffee culture. Now, the company is opening two new Roasteries in New York and Shanghai, with plans to open as many as 10 of the super-premium locations. The premium coffee experience of the Roasteries is intended to have the trickle-down effect. The chain plans to open roughly 500 Reserve stores, which offers premium Roastery beverages and artisanal Princi food, and 1,500 stores with Reserve bars, which will serve drinks made in a wider variety of styles such as pour-over and siphoning.

I think Starbucks is missing the point, here. Opening up some ultra-chic “Roasteries” is not going to change the way we feel about their flagship store, with the same basic menu attracting the same basic coffee drinkers, while sprinkling in the occasional blogger who sometimes changes his clothes in the bathroom, specifically in the Starbucks in NYC on 92nd and 3rd. Opening a handful of Reserve bars will do little to their image. But I am interested in the original content they are promising.

This fall, Starbucks balanced out the start of Pumpkin Spice Latte season in an unprecedented manner. On Wednesday, one day after the official launch of the PSL, Starbucks unveiled an original content series called “Upstanders.” The series, which highlights 10 individuals across the US working to make a difference in their communities, could bolster Starbucks’ image as a values-based organization and help distance it from any “basic” stereotypes. While there is no Starbucks branding on the series, which cost millions of dollars to create and promote, it is clear that Schultz is taking his inspiration from the intellectual Italian espresso bars that guided the coffee giant’s early days.

Ugh, since when does being basic mean you’re not value-based? Like just because I like Starbucks I can’t have an active role in my community? I’m sorry they think that I just meander around all day Snappchatting myself duckfacing between sets at the gym or holding up sidewalk traffic by Instagramming a picture of a bunch of fucking leaves on the ground.

Seriously, screw Starbucks. If they don’t want to be basic I’ll just take my talents somewhere else. I might open my own chain of coffee stores – basics only. We’ll call it “Back to Coffee Basics,” there’s obviously going to be a dress code, and if you pull your head out of your phone at any time you’ll be removed immediately. I’ll even have specialty stores where we’ll have Instagram consultants who offer tips on filters and hashtags for maximum likes.

[via Business Insider]

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