Anyone who watches the stock market knows that companies that fall into the category of discretionary spending have had a hard time meeting their revenue numbers since the ‘recession’ started. Starbucks has been no exception. With the declining dollar, high unemployment and stagnant salaries, people have been pinching pennies. While doing so, some have discovered McCafe; others, how to brew their own coffee (so THAT’s what this appliance does!). The latest Ad Campaign from Starbucks shows how they are trying to boost revenue in tough times – by officially reaching out to a newer demographic:
Young Adults and Teens.
Starbucks has always been a store for adults. In fact, in a 2007 MSNBC Article, Starbucks made their stance clear, insisting they “have never marketed to children”. Starbucks spokesman, Brandon Bormann, agreed, stating “you might see an ad for the company that features a family — although you wouldn’t likely see a Starbucks ad with a child on his or her own.” Acknowledging that this marketing practice would be questionable, Boremann went on to say “the company walks a fine line if it is seen as doing anything specifically to appeal to a younger audience” and elaborating “There would be concerns about serving up heavily caffeinated drinks to kids”. Of course, kids occasionally come in the store so they carry child-appropriate items so that when a parent is buying a cup of coffee, the child can get a cup of milk or hot coco and not feel left out. Starbucks was never intended to be a kids store. Or was it?
2014 Edit: The original commercial was removed and this is the only “Happy Hour” commercial left from 2011 (this is the edited version – cannot find the long version anymore).
The new Starbucks “Frappuccino Happy Hour” commercial (above) is a parade of fresh-faced teenagers with a green straw hanging out of their mouths. While the children in the video use lingo befitting a 9th grader (BAHH! AMAZING! WOOOWWW! BLLLISS!), crazy kid-like art/graphics flash on the screen. This alone should indicate exactly who this commercial is targeting. I can’t say for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of adult Americans are at work or busy between the hours of 3PM and 5PM. But kids aren’t. They are just getting out of school. And along comes Starbucks, already the pinnacle of social cool-ness, creating a happy hour that even a middle school kid could attend. The commercial ends with the uber-cool, teenaged Starbucks patrons telling the viewer, “You betta check it out!”
From there, the coffee pretty much sells itself. Most kids have already been introduced to the sugary greatness of Soda. The next logical step is that higher dose of caffeine (3x higher in Frappaccinos).
“All the adults drink it…And I’m pretty much an adult myself…So I probably should start acting like an adult and drink some Frappuccinos” -American Teen
That is probably some pretty accurate internal monologue. And who’s Starbucks to argue with “what a kid wants“?? Spokeshole Bormann says “While Starbucks hasn’t actively marketed towards that demographic, I think the Starbucks brand has appealed to teenagers, and so there’s certainly an opportunity there for the company to increase business,”. The marijuana brand appeals to teens…does it mean it should be marketed towards them? Not the same thing you say? Somewhat true. But consider this…
A little background information on Caffeine:
- Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that is a psychoactive stimulant.
- Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance.
- A psychoactive substance affects brain function, resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior.
- Caffeine also increases dopamine levels in the same way that amphetamines do. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that activates pleasure centers in certain parts of the brain. Heroin and cocaine also manipulate dopamine levels by slowing down the rate of dopamine reabsorption. Obviously, caffeine’s effect is much lower than heroin’s, but it is the same mechanism. It is suspected that the dopamine connection contributes to caffeine addiction.
Starbucks isn’t first to the arena of selling caffeine via coffee to kids. We’ve all seen plenty of TV shows and movies where the teens gulp down various cool coffee products by the gallon. And I know…it’s JUST caffeine. But what are we teaching kids about the use of artificial stimulants? When it’s glamorized, it paints the picture that relying on stimulants to “get through the day” ,”fit in” or “be cool” is perfectly acceptable behavior. And again, it’s JUST caffeine. I know. But what is being conditioned here is not just a caffeine addiction, but the overall thought process behind the ACCEPTANCE of drugs as an integral part of everyday life. “You see it in commercials, sometimes on billboards, and people in movies drink Starbucks sometimes.” Kids notice this stuff. And that was BEFORE it was marketed directly to their highly impressionable minds.
In addition to encouraging pre-teens to form an early stimulant addiction, it is forcing kids to grow up faster than they should. Before you know it, we’ll have 10-year-olds walking around sipping Frappuccinos, talking on cell phones…oh wait. They’ll have plenty of time for that as adults – shouldn’t they be allowed their youth? That is another topic altogether, but parenting and instilling your specific values and belief systems becomes harder when an alternate set of values are pushed not only through the programming on TV, but the commercials between those programs. The Starbucks Ad was on ‘ABC Family’, a station for “tweens” and teens; and to my knowledge, the overt Ad Campaign is the first of it’s kind (in regards to it’s target demographic). In the modern times of the consumerist driven economy, Corporations are only focused on the almighty dollar, but I believe that TV Networks designed for a younger audience have an obligation to filter the Advertisements down to what is appropriate for the age group. Wouldn’t a commercial promoting a healthy beverage benefit young viewers more than some unscrupulous company peddling their highly caffeinated, super-saccharine addictive substance? If Starbucks absolutely MUST market themselves to children, wouldn’t making them aware of their organic juice and milk choices be the right thing to do?
Starbucks Spokesman Bormann laughs in the face of parents, saying “I don’t think anybody’s going to pass a law saying you have to be 18 to get into a Starbucks … so I think it (kids drinking Starbucks) is just a phenomenon we’re just going to live with.” When it comes to money and profit, right and wrong do not factor in. When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses. But I digress…
I’m not saying that drinking coffee or soda will lead to a drug addiction. At very least, there are probably some growth risks to young people resulting from consumption of lots of caffeine. The point is the slow indoctrination of our youth into a society that embraces self medication through legal stimulants (caffeine, alcohol and nicotine), the complete acceptance of the pharmaceutical industries culture of perpetual treatment through dangerous chemical concoctions and the possibility of opening the door to a wider world of dangerous narcotics like cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. The point is…watch over and care for your kids. Corporations love being a surrogate parent; raising your kids with their values with no concern for what the final product will be.
The MSNBC Article interviewed Melody Esteves, 13, a proud Starbucks patron who often visited with friends. “The thing is addictive!” she said of Starbucks. What Melody did was proudly announce her possible or future addiction to caffeine to a stranger who would type it out for the world to see. Proud. Of addiction. At that age, it mostly boils down to naivety which is apparent in another interview with Adell Ahmed, 15, and his friends, who weren’t even concerned with the caffeine content in their drinks. But what starts as a non-decision or a catch phrase becomes the basis on which future opinions are formulated.
The nation has been consumed by the mainstream-promoted lifestyle of staying caffeinated and medicated throughout the week; getting drunk on weekends; or the outright abuse of prescription medications all while the US Government pretends to care by waging a “War on Drugs”. Never mind the complete contradiction of promoting their “good drugs” while villainizing the “bad drugs”. Never mind that these drugs don’t cure anything and only treat symptoms rather than the cause. An indifferent society has offered up their “solutions” in the form of “good drugs” instead of fixing what actually ails the human mind. Caffeine for the overworked, antidepressants for the underpaid, blood-pressure pills for the highly-stressed, pain-killers to numb the pain of life in a civilized society that isn’t designed for human happiness as nature intended, but human servitude. And all this is normal because this is what we’re used to. This is what we’ve been taught since we were young. This is so normal, in fact, that many people would defend the lifestyle of a Government approved addiction; making excuses for why it’s okay that medicating has become part of the daily routine.
Of course, the fault does not belong entirely to Starbucks. To even suggest that caffeine is a gateway drug would be misleading. But as stated above, Starbucks’ newest ad campaign is another brick in the foundation of a populace perfectly complacent with a society that revolves around promoting the use of stimulants as something cool; something everyone is doing. The biggest problem is that they are inundating the pliable minds of children with this message. Spokesface Boarman’s attitude is If it wasn’t Starbucks, it’d be someone else, stating “It’s not terribly different from drinking soda pop and eating Hostess Twinkies”. Welcome to the club, kids. When you finish your double-shot of espresso chased by a Trenta-sized Mocha-Strawberry-Caramel Frappuccino, we’ve got some other great stuff for you to try. Trust us, you’ll feel all grown up! It’ll be great!
2015 Edit: In the years since this article was written, Starbucks has continued their youth ad campaign for Frap Happy Hour with the following commercials:
2015: (an ad for Frappuccino in general and not happy hour, but it embodies the spirit of their campaign)