Take me, Starbucks — I’m yours

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.

Hint, hint.

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.

11 thoughts on “Take me, Starbucks — I’m yours

  1. kbfenner

    Brad–your first coffee-nated blog reads like J.Peterman copy. Wonder if they’re hiring?

    Godd luck w/ the ads!

  2. bud

    After agonizing over this issue for some time now I’ve decided to favor a ban on coffee shops in America. This goes against my deeply held conviction that the United States should be a free nation that allows adults to make their own decisions about how to spend their money and what to put into their bodies. But the evidence is now becoming impossible to deny that coffee shops, such as Starbucks, represent a significant threat to the health and financial well-being of Americans, and, if left in its continued unregulated state, could result in the ultimate collapse of our great nation. So although it is difficult to go against my heartfelt love of freedom I can no longer in good conscience continue to support policies that allow Starbucks and other businesses to continue selling drug-laden beverages that cause anxiety, sleeplessness, bizarre outbursts in public and other assorted problems. In addition, evidence is mounting that the main drug in coffee, caffeine, is probably psychologically addictive to the point that withdrawal symptoms, such as severe headaches, can occur.

    Beyond the health and social disruptions coffee causes it is becoming clear that these establishments are resulting in a significant amount of urban blight. Where benign head shops once greeted shoppers in Five-Point and other areas, buildings are now occupied by seedy coffee shops that cater to all sorts of social misfits, many of whom can be seen wearing ties and other unseemly attire. Folks can be seen sitting around for hours in these places idling away the hours while contributing little to the welfare of society.

    But perhaps the most significant problem with Starbucks is the financial burden it places on the families of those who have been sucked in to the caffeine addiction. I am personally aware of at least one unemployed individual who spends $3 or more on a single cup of coffee just to maintain his habit! This money could be used to buy food or pay the rent; but instead will go to pay the pushers of the evil coffee bean. Indeed this money goes into the pockets of huge coffee cartels in Brazil, Colombia and other Latin American country rather than into the American economy.

    It’s time we take our country back by outlawing the evils of coffee and especially those establishments that prey on the weak among us who cannot control their addiction. It’s time to do what is socially responsible in the communitarian spirit and pass legislation that will ban or at least regulate the evils of coffee shops.

  3. doug_ross


    I think you’re onto something. I didn’t realize that the CEO of Starbucks (Mr. Howard D. Schultz)
    earner $ 1.19M in salary last year and then added an additional $ 96.55M in stock options. How can we allow a CEO to make such an outrageous salary when there are so many Americans who depend on the services his company provides?

    Why, if that greedy CEO would just work for nothing, Starbucks could probably shave at least a nickel off every cup!

    I don’t drink coffee but I feel I should have a public option to get the best coffee possible if I want it and let the current coffee drinkers pay for it. That’s the fair thing to do, isn’t it?

  4. Bart

    I would patronize Starbucks but I don’t speak coffeese fluently. As a matter of fact, I can barely get through ordering a regular cup of coffee at Starbucks without a coffee dictionary. Then, when I get the cup, finding my way through all of the nuances of the dozens of options to add to it are confusing.

    I guess I will remain an ignorant pedestrian, sleepwalking through life, not enjoying the unique pleasures Starbucks has to offer. Damn!

  5. Brad Warthen

    Yikes, irony from bud! I love it! But bud reckons without all the socially admirable things that Starbucks does with supporting small farmers in the Third World and shade-grown beans and all sorts of other wonderful stuff that I’ll tell you about once they start paying me to do so.

    And just to set the record straight, this unemployed guy never spends more than $2 on coffee, if that. I’m a straight-coffee man, not a fancy-drink guy.

    In fact, if I have a complaint about Starbucks, it’s that occasionally, in some of the stores, you end up waiting behind somebody making up his/her mind about what complex combination of junk they want in their sickenly sweet $5 sundae.

    But… that said, most Starbucks stores do a good job of working around those people. While one barista is listening to “… non-fat non-dairy mocha latte with a shot, etc.,” another will look past them at the REAL coffee drinker who’s starting to show the urge to kill in his caffeine-deprived eye, and say “what can I get for you?”

    They’re very good about that at the Gervais St. store; I almost never have to wait. And at a store in Memphis (the one at White Station and Poplar, in the former Pancho’s Taco building where my wife and her friend Mary worked to earn the money for their trip to Europe the summer that I met her), they actually have a SEPARATE LINE for actual coffee drinkers at peak hours. Which is the way the whole world should be…


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