A Freshly Brewed Cup of Ideology
The Starbucks commercial “Sue” resonates with me for many reasons. One of these reasons is my personal interaction with the company, as I am both an avid coffee drinker and former Starbucks employee. Another is my interest in major corporation’s candidness about their business practices, and a third reason is a fascination with the idea of having a product that is both globally mass produced and individually customizable. All of these ideas are central to the commercial that I chose. This commercial has two main messages, both of which exemplify popular culture ideologies.
The first is the message that Starbucks products are handcrafted for each individual customer, enabling a very personal, customizable experience. This is evidenced by both the end text – “Perfectly Handcrafted for Sue/Handcrafted for You” and the labeling of each part of the process from coffee plant to cup for “Sue”. The idea of customization for the customer appeals to the universal desire to have something just for you, that no one else has. The incredibly high number of combinations possible in a Starbucks drink means that each “Sue” can have their own unique Starbucks experience. Stating that the drink is handcrafted for you gives the impression , when combined with the commercial’s imagery, that when coffee is picked, roasted, tested and created, it is done so with you (personally, the consumer) in mind.
The second idea this advertisement presents is that Starbucks is open about their entire supply chain, literally from planting to cup. This openness is not stated explicitly, but showing the entire production process as clean, happy, and intentionally cared for is meaningful to the commercial’s audience, specifically targeting premium consumers who are willing to pay for the perceived value of knowing exactly what they buy, and from whom. It is an integral part of our popular culture now for consumers to care about a specific piece of the supply chain of the product. Whether a product is organically grown or not, whether the product is certified Fair Trade, whether the provider is Union, whether the company takes care of it’s employees, and whether or not they are sustainable and ecologically cognizant are all examples of modern ethically minded consuming. Thus, the fact that Starbucks comes across as an ethical business with a conscience is a way for consumers to identify with the company, and choosing Starbucks becomes choosing their good business practices.
When I worked at Starbucks the week long training not only covered drink construction, but how Starbucks as a company functioned from the bean to the cup, as it were. It was very obvious from the training that what we baristas were selling was not just a cup of coffee, but an experience encompassing all of those ethical practices as well. We watched a multitude of videos about where Starbucks coffee comes from, how the company supports the farmers, and why those practices were imperative to the company. Clearly, in order for everyone to be on board with this mission, we all had to stress the importance of this knowledge amongst ourselves, in order to carry the message to the consumer. This strengthens the reputation of the company, which in turn makes the advertisement and its imagery all the more powerful.
The image of Starbucks as a coffee company with a clear conscience, but also enabling the customer experience to be highly customizable, seems to be working well, and in no small part from advertisements like this one. As a coffee consumer, the visual representation of the clean, happy environment of coffee production is a compelling one. Since Starbucks is a large corporation and yet shows a more human approach in its apparent ethics and personalized emphasis, it can very effectively target choice consumers and help them to uphold their own personal ethics through something as simple as a cup of coffee. Their ability to make a giant corporation appear approachable justifies, in many people’s minds, the choice to purchase, and therefore garners support of their products, to the exclusivity of other considerations, like cost or quality. The personal choice to consume coffee from a company that promotes this image, whether or not it is actually true, is still a statement of one’s one ideologies. Starbucks, through this commercial shows that it has truly mastered the art of persuading consumers to purchase their coffee, and pledge allegiance to the company based on its personalized approach and apparent ethical concern.