December 11, 2009

Starbucks is rebranding itself into small, non-branded coffee shops. They’ve realized that people associate “big” with “bad”. I’m not complaining. I like Starbucks. They’re an extremely reliable coffee option, and I absolutely love their fall and winter seasonal drinks. Then again, I’ve never had a problem with big business. Big brands can provide a consistency that local, independent shops cannot. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes it’s not.

However, I can’t help but think that this rebranding effort is a sneaky little trick they’re trying to play. It’s a way to spite all those people who hate Starbucks because it’s Starbucks. Not that this is some crazy new idea – rebranding is a classic marketing option. But will the customers these unknown stores attract be upset when they learn they’re supporting Starbucks? Or are they shallow enough to appreciate the décor and not really care about the larger principle of the matter? Is looking small the new way of big businesses?

So yes, Starbucks has gotten too big, too fast. They’ve even come out and said that, in addition to closing hundreds of stores. I like the idea of them adding local flair to their shops and having local food options. In general, Starbucks’ food is lacking. But I don’t fully understand this fascination with being unknown. It’s this idea that being small automatically equals some kind of authenticity. I blame it on the indie culture going mainstream. It used to be that you wanted to be/do/go where everyone else was. Now, it’s almost a race to find a place no one else knows about and then once they do, it’s not cool anymore. And businesses have to learn to balance large-scale success with maintaining their indie credentials.


  1. It’s like the experiments MS did to prove that people hated the Vista name more than Vista itself. Frankly, I’m surprised Walmart hasn’t tried something like this. Since everyone always accuses them of being so big.

    This is not a new phenomenon, just a new interpretation. You may not know this or it may be in the back of your mind where you don’t think about it, but most of the things you buy in the store are not in competition with each other, they’re all owned by the same company. Proctor and Gamble is the best example. They own almost every brand of laundry detergent and diaper. For every item they make they make a ritzy brand and a low cost brand. You don’t know it unless you check the label on the bottom. It’s the same for candy. There are three or four candy makers for all those brands of candy you see by the checkout line.

    • Exactly; same with the beverage industry, right? The difference I think though with P&G, etc. is that I don’t associate a that company with their brands. They’ve done enough branding and marketing that each one is separate. Maybe it’s just because I don’t pay attention too closely to detergent or diapers, but I think they’re marketing to different crowds. They just want to control the entire market. However, Starbucks seems to be staying in its niche. I’m seeing it more like when Toyota developed Lexus. By making a luxury car brand, regular Toyotas gained credibility.

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