What can Starbucks learn from its dumb twin?

article-2555537-1B57FCF100000578-227_634x624When in need of a coffee and lacking imagination, Americans often concede and opt for a ‘dumb Starbucks.’ In light of this street jargon, a new cafe has opened in Los Angeles offering exactly that. Dumb Starbuck’s menu and branding is identical to that of global coffee chain Starbucks. Once customers have braved the hour long queue they can pick up a Dumb Chai Tea Latte, a Dumb latte or even a Dumb Jazz Standards CD.

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Dumb Starbucks has been able to open by claiming it’s a parody permissible under freedom of speech laws. The big question isn’t whether or not it is legal – but rather, why is this happening to Starbucks as opposed to other brands? What has made the brand so vulnerable to this extravagant form of parody?

From a branding perspective, it’s fair to say that Starbucks has got a strong identity, that’s consistent and even inspiring — however, that identity is absolutely everywhere to the point of annoyance. The United States is literally littered with Starbucks. It’s not uncommon to see multiple Starbucks establishments on the same block as each other in LA or New York.

Map showing Starbucks stores on Manhattan island, New York.

Map showing Starbucks stores on Manhattan island, New York.

The chain has undermined its unparalleled success, not because competition has bettered it, but because it has over-saturated the market with its shops. Basically, people are sick of seeing Starbucks everywhere. It’s like a popular song that’s overplayed. (Daft Punk and Pharell’s song ‘Get Lucky,’ is fantastic, but after every radio station, bar and club on the planet played it a billion times on repeat, you’ve got to admit it’s gotten kind of tiresome.)

People in Los Angeles (and probably everywhere) are looking for experiences that are special and rare. Consumers, especially those who can afford a $5 latte, are much more attracted to brands they have to seek out and discover then brands that they find on every street corner. Starbucks may need to find a better way into people’s hearts rather then just playing the same note again and again.

Dumb Starbucks is making a lot of people chuckle, but, parody or not, the legal eagles will probably swoop in to shut it down pretty soon. However, let’s hope it illuminates something for the real Starbucks – that there’s a fine line between making your brand readily available and becoming a ‘brand nuisance.”

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