The McDonaldization of Starbucks

‘We dropped our shorts to make more money. Hope you don’t mind.’

(this excerpt is a bit lengthy but I find the in the trenches Starbucks anecdote interesting, hopefully you find it worth it!)

. . . Now, Starbucks was hiring hundreds of specialists from the outside, many from management positions at Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and other fast-food chains. When I joined the company, we made fun of those companies. Now, just three years later, we had been forced to hiring them. But bringing them on staff also meant changing the culture of the company, and in doing so changing the heart of the brand.

It was suggested that Starbucks remove the small “short” cups and introduce a larger, whale of a beverage container that would be more profitable. The largest size Starbucks had at the time, sixteen ounces, was a grande. About this time the soft-drink brands were moving to “Big Slam” and “Big Gulp” beverage sizes. The person offering the idea, who came to us from one of the fast-food players, distributed sheets of numbers around the room which supported the idea. It would be more profitable, yes, but what would it do for the single espresso drinker, who liked one ounce of espresso with seven rather than eleven ounces of milk? The taste is quite different… One of the purists from the Coffee Department became quite upset that we would even consider such a notion. I offered a suggestion.

“If we remove the smaller cups we’ll have to take out a large newspaper ad announcing the decision so people won’t be confused. The headline will read, ‘We dropped our shorts to make more money. Hope you don’t mind.’ What do you think?”

Starbucks, decided to keep its shorts behind the bar, though at the time of this writing they are not listed on the menu board anymore. You have to ask for one. The bigger cup? It’s called a venti.

– Scott Bedbury, Former Chief Marketing Officer Starbucks, excerpt from “A New Brand World” p159-160, 2002

I used to be a Starbucks brand enthusiast. I often describe Howard Schultz’s “Pour Your Heart Into It” as a romance novel for coffee, as his aureate descriptions of the care and attention to detail in every Starbucks brew made me fall in love with coffee before I consumed a sip.

Having met recently with members of the Starbucks team, I can attest that at least culturally, the people there still represent the warmest regards for which I hold the brand. However, their loss of a true brand compass leads me to believe that in five years time, being a Starbucks brand enthusiast will have the same panache as being a McDonald’s enthusiasts (though some may argue this change has taken place already).

It’s clear from Starbucks recent moves, that the Starbucks brand has taken on a new meaning.

But ever since they dropped their shorts, I’m not sure it’s the brand definition they intended.

(Logo redesign article  @AnnieKatrina)

3 thoughts on “The McDonaldization of Starbucks

  1. Nice post. To me, Starbucks is only as good as the teenager making it. I have had as many good cups of coffee from there as I have had bad. On another note, I’m honestly surprised McDonald’s has been as successful as they have in the coffee department. I hear more and more people talk about stopping by McDonald’s for coffee instead of Starbucks. What’s even crazier is that McDonald’s coffee is almost as expensive as Starbucks!

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    • McDonald’s coffee tastes absolutely terrible to me; as if it’s been sitting there, cooking for 3 hours too long or something. I’m with Mikal…I love my Keurig.

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  2. @B. Handy. ‘Starbucks is only as good as the teenager making it’ Hilarious! don’t worry though- starbucks is moving to push button espresso shots.

    Starbucks is going to have to contend with my keurig brewer, I was a coffeholic, but now I can get a precisely brewed single cup of coffee without any work or using coffee grinds (even if its not wholly perfect). And again- instant coffee? Really? Thats like a Ruth Chris’ selling a microwaveable steak.

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