Starbucks Searches Its Soul

The Wall Street Journal (paid sub. req.) has published an email sent by Starbucks’ CEO, Howard Schultz, revealing his inner turmoil over decisions made under his watch. It’s unusual to see a man in his position question this deeply.
His email, titled, “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience” looks at what Schultz calls “the watering down of the Starbucks experience.”

For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocco machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, which are now in thousands of stores, blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.

Schultz nails this one. I go out for espresso, precisely because I can’t afford a $10,000 machine in my kitchen. The expensive Italian machinery in the hands of a skilled barista delivers the magic that is espresso. By automating this process, the end product is diminished, and the role of barista is relegated to that of order taker and change maker.



About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.