A long time ago (January 7, 2008), the Wall Street Journal ran an article about McDonald's competing against Starbucks.
At the time the issue was that the former planned to pit its own deluxe coffees head to head with the latter.
At the time I wrote that while Starbucks could be confident in its brand-loyal consumers, the company, my personal favorite brand of all time,
"...needs to see this as a major warning signal. As I have said before, it is time to reinvent the brand — now.
"Starbucks should consider killing its own brand and resurrecting it as something even better — the ultimate, uncopyable 'third space' that is suited for the way we live now.
"There is no growth left for Starbucks as it stands anymore — it has saturated the market. It is time to do something daring, different, and better — astounding and delighting the millions (billions?) of dedicated Starbucks fans out there who are rooting for the brand to survive and succeed."
Today as I sat at the Starbucks near me having lunch, this reality became even more stark. Placards implying the beer-like deliciousness of "Nitro Cold Brew" (if such a thing can be said about coffee) were placed prominently around me for inspection.
The truth is, it's nothing special.
Just like the food at Starbucks is stale (I refer specifically to the egg salad sandwiches, bagels, and salads I've bought here) as well as overpriced (insanely priced, actually).
If I'm going to pay for food I want it to be good. The wifi here is better, so I go to Pret down the street and get a falafel wrap quickly. Then come back here and take advantage of computer time.
The lines at Starbucks are deceiving. "Everybody" seems to come here.
But if you actually talk to people, they often will tell you that the coffee tastes burnt.
And when I visit Starbucks, as I frequently do, there is not much left of the passion. I can think of maybe one barista who has it.
I heard the other day that Howard Schultz is stepping down this April.
In many ways, that makes sense.
Howard Schultz literally is -- was -- the brand.
When I think about the things that have made it so special for me, it really is not about the coffee.
It is what Don Draper referred to in Mad Men as "nostalgia....not...the wheel...(but)...the carousel."
It is the sweet tinge of leaving my youth behind.
It is memories of passing time there with the kids, of bouncing around the couches on the Upper West Side, when they were toddlers.
It is memories of handing out surveys for my dissertation research.
It is Florida vacation.
It is fair trade and Veterans and tuition for baristas.
It is--however badly this went over--"Racing Together" and the dream of employing refugees.
It is letting people who are homeless have a place to rest for awhile.
It is a dream, it is my dream, of making the world better through consciously ethical branding.
Somewhere along the way, Starbucks simply got too big.
Schultz never lost his vision, but it became another soulless brand nonetheless.
I have a lot of ideas about how to fix this thing, but one of them is for sure.
It does not involve any product that looks like iced coffee, tastes like iced coffee with a little bit of Splenda, and goes by the name of a beer.
All opinions my own. Photo by me.