Starbucks Staff Not Spelling It Out For Us

Starbucks is co-producing a Hollywood film that has nothing to do with coffee.
Last January, Associated Press reported that Starbucks employees will wear lanyards with “Akeelah” buzz words during the month of April in the hope of sparking conversations about the movie, billed as the story of an 11-year-old girl from inner-city Los Angeles who makes it to a national spelling bee.
It’s now April and the Starbucks near me is indeed covered in Akeelah and the Bee point-of-sale. In fact, I looked around to see if I might purchase the magnetic words I saw displayed in a kit. I could not.
Joseph Jaffe also noticed the disconnect and does not like it.

Bottom line is that there is no activation; no integration; no extension going on….why are baristas not quizzing random customers to spell a word and if they get it right, they get a free coffee. Where’s the board game or the table-top conversation starters? Where’s the pamphlet that tells consumers why Starbucks is in the movie business or what values are being tapped into in the process?

Why is Starbucks promoting this film? It’s part of their quest to be an entertainment company, no doubt. The thinking is right, but the execution needs work.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Excuse me? Sitting in a starbucks waiting to be quizzed on spelling words. It’s spring, man. I read some journals of clark, lewis, floyd, gas, whitehouse who ventured out to the northwest and took notes. How cool of an adventure. The gal who couldn’t write at all and carried things in her head made it quite possible for all of them. None of them spelled correctly or consistently betwixt themselves. And we figured out what they were talking about.
    Follow the river, take notes (head or hand if you hafta), live.
    Sacajawea would never end up in a coffee bar doing spelling.

  2. That’s fine. But we’re not discussing Lewis and Clark, Nancy. We’re talking about how to run an integrated marketing campaign, and the growing desire corporations like Starbucks have to put their marketing dollars into advertainment plays.

  3. You didn’t get the historic marketing reference did you? If you always look to business to find answers to business… well, no wonder the world runs in tight circles?
    Lewis and Clark were on a marketing campaign for these United States. What they were always about, new shores and the action thereon, be they Plymouth Rock, Boston tea party harbors, or past the banks of the Mississippi/Missouri. Advertainment or land attainment? You know when those guys came back east, why even when they got to Louisville, 11-08-1806, they put on a big show. You think this was all strategic planning? Science?
    Well, I would have like to been in the Clark family living room when they were puttin on a show to their friends with their finds.
    You think in the late 1700s they didn’t have advertainment. Like what we are doing today is all so new? History and Harmonics. Therein lie some clues.

  4. Fuck clues. This is a web site, not a puzzle.

  5. Then you have the answers while 5000 starbuck$ spring up in the United States overnight, and people rather sit inside drinking the coffee instead of the Koolaid out on the veranda.
    No brew for me. Pass the lemonade–no sugar.

  6. This is indeed a disturbing trend .. I was shocked to see Starbucks in the opening credits (and Mark Cuban in the closing), but it is a surprisingly good movie … Starbucks has even managed to work itself into the title of an upcoming Tom Hanks movie, to be called something like “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” … I can’t make this stuff up.

  7. Coffee, as a world commodity, is second only to oil. America is the largest consumer.
    Coffee prices, gas prices.. hmm.
    I won’t be waiting for the next oil company movie to be a hit at the box office.
    And I just read on earth day about the amount of water it takes to produce one cup of coffee–from start (seed) to finish (roasting). It was amazing how many people could be showering instead. Well, at least once a week.

  8. If I may venture back to the original post, I think Jaffe is off-base. The Starbucks brand is about “hip and cool” and the fastest way to lose it, is to be “in your face” with marketing messages.
    In this case, think of the movie as a two-hour ad (another reason why Starbuck’s doesn’t want to be too overt). If Starbucks is successful at transferring the meaning and feelings from the movie to the brand AND making a buck while doing so . . . well, I hope that Madison Avenue is paying attention. And you too, Joe. 😉

  9. Thanks for getting us back on track, Tom.

  10. yes, because it would be useless to think about sidetracked social economic affects commodities/advertising have on our lives in five years.
    I am truly sorry for disrupting your morning coffee. I better go eat (or sow?) my own oats. I can’t get started in the morning without them. Well, and the digestive track and all that.
    The morning poop
    comes loopity loop
    even when its after an evening soup.
    Translated from the german:
    morgen schiss
    kommt gewiss
    eben wenn es an abend ist.

  11. Nancy,
    May I direct you to a free Blogger account, where you can type up your witicisms until your heart’s content?
    Oh, but you’d rather have our audience for your esoteric thinking. Too bad. That’s not how it works.

  12. David,
    Since you asked politely, i will do that just for you.
    Not open up a free account. I told you I closed mine.
    I will not type up anything else here. If an audience I seek, than be it not here. It is something else I am not after. Excuse the time spent. I must have lost control.
    Thank you, David, for being patient and kind.

  13. Links Du Jour

    ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ celebrates 20 years of cleaning up – Texans are less messy than ever thanks to this clever slogan. Starbucks Staff Not Spelling it Out For Us – Interesting blog on an interesting means of selling a hard to spell movie idea about…

  14. I had a similar experience as Jaffe when I visited a Starbucks:
    This, as someone above noted, is about brand transferrence more than anything. They want the positive feelings you have about Starbucks to spill over into the movie. Too bad Starbucks doesn’t seem to have trained the staff for this promotion or gone out of their way to really put some muscle behind it. They seem to think they can sit back and let the customers do their marketing jobs for them.

  15. Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate your patience with my attempts to create order (a foolish pursuit, no doubt).

  16. Gee whiz, David. Too much caffeine? Where’s Mrs. Olson with the Folger’s when you need her?
    Running off poor Nancy seems a bit severe, despite her occasionally incoherent musings.
    Regarding Starbucks, I hate the effort for different reasons. Starbucks seems to be trying too hard to appear both hip and a good corporate citizen ala The Body Shop. But the reality is, they’re an over-priced version of Mickey D’s and Wal-Mart, destined to become a blight on society. Hell, they may already be there.
    Hey, am I starting to sound like Nancy?

  17. So I’m an espresso-fueled ogre. No one’s perfect.

  18. Links Du Jour

    Let ad revenue be your shepherd – Here’s a novel way to get your product name and URL out there: on the torsos of sheep. And it works… That’s disgusting… – Some pharmaceutical product names and slogans, like Mucinex (Mucinex in, Mucus out) are pret…

  19. fem dom strapon commented on September 25, 2007 12:40 PM:
    Doesn`t matter what you say, but how…!! But you said it well
    I don’t know where this comment went besides down the digital disintegrater, but it’s still showing up in google and not in the recent comment thread for me.
    Anyway it was fun that the thread was recalled and revisited. If everyone’s mind workings were exoteric and embraced by the general public, marketing experts (resisiting putting this word in quotes) wouldn’t have a career trying to figure out and proselytize the workings of the successful and exceptional products.
    Visit an asylum as an inpatient. INmates is such a misused word.