Posted by Stephanie Startz on September 28, 2009 04:37 PM
The ads were funnier than the show. But can the four 15-second spots Starbucks ran during Saturday Night Live's season premiere drive customers back into stores (and lift ailing stock prices)?
The delightfully nonsensical spots show taste tests conducted with town hall protesters, a jockey, a priest and a rabbi, and people who look like their dogs -- all agreeing that they can't taste the difference between Starbucks drip coffee and Starbucks Via.
Is Starbucks cannibalizing itself by positioning Via against their own product? Yes and no.
Will customers buy their instant coffee en masse and never walk through the doors of a Starbucks again? Of course not. Customers will still flock to Starbucks to enjoy the variety of beverages available on their menu that can't be recreated at home. Just as Starbucks' bottom line felt no ill effects from offering whole-bean coffee roasts for purchase in stores and supermarkets, they can expect Via to help revenue.
Via's real harm may come as a brand-image boondoggle. Starbucks risks wasting time and resources focusing on the wrong thing, involving itself in an unnecessary campaign to rebrand instant coffee when it should have all hands on deck for the ailing flagship. Worse, suggesting that brewed Starbucks can't be told apart from instant is not a message the company needs.
The coffee retailer has begun to rebound slightly after a brutal year, and needs to buckle down and refocus energies on providing customers with a traditional Starbucks Experience.
Via will shore up sales for the short term, but focus needs to turn inward for success in the long run. Starbucks will come to find, sooner or later: instant isn't always a good thing.