Starbucks New Instant Via Faces Web Scrutiny

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Will Starbucks’s new instant — sorry, “ready brew” — coffee Via get a lukewarm reception from consumers? Or is demand piping hot?

As the countdown builds toward Via’s four-day “taste challenge” at Starbucks stores tomorrow through Monday, what din has Starbucks Via registered around the web?

Reviews of the four 15-second ads have been positive. Viewers responded well to the offbeat humor featuring dog people and jockeys. The “Town Hall” commercial, slyly alluding to conservative protestors, leads Mediaite to question whether conservative viewers will “have a sense of humor about themselves[?]”  But the conservative blogosphere seems able to play along with the joke. Hot Air sees an element of flattery in the ads:

If the man’s so excited about Starbucks instant blend that he needs to sing out, then damn it, sing out. Frankly, the fact that townhall protests are now so thoroughly embedded in the national consciousness that a major company feels safe to parody them in paid ads is a testament to their effectiveness.  On the other hand, this is Starbucks we’re talking about. Hmmmmm.

Reactions to Starbuck’s instant-coffee brand extension are more skeptical.[more]

Harvard Business School professor John Quelch defends Starbucks’ decision-making, but warns they could lose sight of their long-term objectives.

Starbucks’ launch of Via shows great commercial courage. And commercial courage is what consumers need in the face of this recession…This launch is not dumbing down the Starbucks brand. It is making it affordable and accessible in the face of recession. It is innovative, unexpected. So long as it doesn’t distract management from continuously improving the in-store experience, it could be a winner.

Unfortunately for Starbucks, those kind words are a dissenting view.  The Motley Fools bluntly headlines “This May Be Starbucks Dumbest Move Ever,” and condemns Starbucks’decision to position Via against its in-store drip coffee:

Maybe I slept through business school when taste tests were being discussed, but I always thought side-by-side comparisons were more sadistic than masochistic. Why is Starbucks ripping itself? Why is it belittling its barista-brewed drinks in favor of a much cheaper solution that doesn’t involve stepping into a Starbucks store?

Street interviews in New York caused local blog Gothamist to declare, “Starbucks Instant Coffee Instantly Hated By New York.”  Maybe HQ should have included New York in their test market? And BNET joins the pile-on, with some Brand Management 101 (“How to Blow a Turnaround”), asking:

[H]ow does Via stop the market share erosion to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts? How does it bring customers back to Starbucks? Why didn’t the marketing geniuses at Starbucks compare Via to competitors’ fresh brewed coffee? At least that might have made some sense.

What do you think of Starbucks Via campaign? Innovative product strategy, or is Starbucks brewing up failure? We’ll monitor reactions to the taste challenge promotion starting tomorrow.

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