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August 01, 2006

TNR Hatchet-Job On Starbucks

You can only read the first page for free, but as the writer manages to connect Starbucks up with Soviet artistic suppression, you pretty much get a flavor of the thing from the first page anyway.

As the company's chairman, Howard Schultz, explained the expansion of Starbucks's music business, "Our customers have given us permission to extend the experience." How did they do that, I wonder. Did they sign a slip? Or has Schultz conflated acquiescence with will, as autocrats in coffee, music, or politics are inclined to do?

The "experience" to which Schultz refers is that of the consumption of taste, be it in coffee, creamy fruit drinks, pastries, or CDs. Indeed, he is leading his company to become an official arbiter of taste in the arts as well as in foodstuffs, an institution interested less in satisfying the tastes of its customers than in instilling them. In the realm of its first business, drinks and snacks, Starbucks displayed a belief in the malleability of judgment that approached contempt for the individual's will. Why call a small drink its opposite, "tall"? Why trademark a word for a size, such as "venti"? Why insist on referring to your salespeople by the Italian term "baristas," with its evocation of both legal counsel and guerrilla warfare? Why, if not to press your authority to the limits of irrationality and to test the boundaries of your targets' passivity?

They ain't selling coffee. They're selling identity.

Identity sells, baby. It's one of the few things that everyone truly needs.


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posted by Ace at 03:40 PM

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