Starbucks: More Than Just a Coffee Shop
Why a Lawsuit Against Its Most Popular Drink Is Meaningless
On April 19th of 2017, people lined up at Starbucks to try their newest limited edition drink concoction named “The Unicorn Frap.” Being a huge success, many Starbucks stores sold out of the novelty drink rather quickly within its first few days on the market and it became a social media sensation. As a result of the frappuccino’s fame, Starbucks promised its customers that it would start releasing more special limited edition drinks in the near future. Well, less than a month after the unicorn frappuccino’s release, Starbucks has been faced with a lawsuit as a result of said drink. According to People, a local Brooklyn café called “The End” filed a ten million dollar trademark infringement lawsuit against Starbucks for its festive unicorn drink. CBS News reported that Starbucks’ “Unicorn Frap” was similar to The End’s Unicorn Latte in name and appearance. Such tactics caused The End’s most popular product to lose its credibility and be considered a Starbucks knockoff by customers, taking a dive in sales. Whether Starbucks wins or loses this lawsuit against The End, the important question to ask is “Why would Starbucks take such a risk if they already had prior knowledge of the Unicorn Latte’s existence on the market?” In order to answer this question, we need to look at Naomi Klein’s No Logo documentary to see just how Starbucks operates as a business. Analyzing the documentary, specifically its discussion about branding, we can see just why Starbucks would take a risk with its newest product.
Background on the Documentary
Before diving right into the discussion about the relationship between Klein’s documentary and Starbucks, we first need to emphasize what points from No Logo are essential in the discussion. The documentary is split into three main topics: “No Space,” “No Choice,” and “No Jobs.” In relation to Starbucks, Klein’s “No Space” subject matter is most relevant. In her discussion, she delves into branding, the idea that a business cares more about establishing its brand as opposed to its own products. According to Klein, in order to create a successful business, one has to establish a name brand in order to gain a consumer following. As such, many of the most successful businesses across the world have monetized off of many of the things that people long for. Are you seeking a family? If so, look no further than one of the most successful businesses in recent memory, the family-friendly environment of Walmart. Are you a patriotic person that’s looking for another outlet to perform his or her civil duty? If so, look no further than IKEA, a home goods store representing the brand of democracy with the ability to choose your own interior bedroom design from a variety of walk-in options. The list can go on forever. The point is, if you were to name any of the top ten most successful companies at the moment, chances are that they have an established brand that helps them target a certain demographic that both aids them in terms of advertising and allows them to attract a greater share of the market.
Returning to the topic at hand, just like other successful companies, Starbucks too has it own brand. Founded in 1971, Starbucks established its brand around community. With the intent of providing customers “a home away from home,” Starbucks sought to create a welcoming, home-like environment first, and delicious, unique coffee flavors second. Starbucks accomplished its goal by provided a space that was considered by many a place to hang out and relax initially and a store as an afterthought. It further reinforced the collective gathering of people at their coffee shop by being one of the first stores to provide free, public wifi to its customers. As a result, the most typical customers were college students that could go to Starbucks like they would a library, a place where they could relax, work on a paper using Starbucks’ wifi, and drink some of Starbucks’ name-brand coffee. In essence, Starbucks, like many other companies, used branding as a marketing technique to get people into their store which would more often than not result in a sale of one of their products regardless of if it was a unicorn frappuccino or a buttered bagel.
So far we have discussed Starbucks’ current lawsuit with The End, Klein’s documentary, and Starbucks’ brand but how do these all tie in together? Answering the original question, Starbucks would take a chance on copying a known product because they have nothing to lose in doing so. Unlike The End with its Unicorn Latte, Starbucks doesn’t rely on selling a single product in order to be a successful company. The only thing that Starbucks needs to sell its customers on is its brand. Once a customer has bought into the brand of a company, the worst case scenario is that the customer may or may not buy a product once they are already inside the store. The best case scenario, however, is that the customer gets upgraded to the status of a loyal customer, a person who has bought into the brand so much that they are interconnected with it and basically become a lifelong consumer for said business such as Starbucks. In copying The End’s product, the best case scenario for Starbucks would be that they could capitalize off of the momentum of the Unicorn Latte and make a large profit relatively quickly to help boost confidence with shareholders. The worst case scenario would either be that they would get caught with a lawsuit or that the product would flop and they would move on to the next one. Either way, Starbucks’ reputation would not be tarnished. Their brand would still be the same as it always was and customers would still be loyal to them. Again, this is all speculation because a ruling on the case has not been made official on whether or not Starbucks will be found guilty or not of copying The End’s product. Regardless, Starbucks took advantage of its branding recognition and power to boost the rate of success of their new product, something a local coffee shop like The End could only dream of doing some day.