Case Study Fridays: Starbucks

Photo courtesy of Paul Isakson

Starbucks has indeed become one of the leading icons of  the 21st century. When I was growing up in the Philippines, Starbucks was more than a coffee shop; it was an established icon in the beverage world, a symbol of everything about the West– huge, branded, caffeinated, global. Perception of the brand went beyond just being a mundane place to get your quick morning cup of joe– it was a status symbol, that seemed to gain power in direct proportion to its epic reach, ever omnipresent. When a nearby Starbucks cafe opened near my high school, there was a craze around Starbucks, from the drinks even to its napkins; almost everything was hailed like designer material.

During one of our annual field trips, we stopped by a Starbucks coffee shop and mostly everyone in the bus, all 12-year olds, hurried up to the store and ordered their own drink that cost as much as two chicken and rice meals at McDonalds (one of the staple value meals served at McDo, Philippines.)

Here in the states, Starbucks is at every corner. In the mornings during watercooler conversations, we express our hatred for this, but in the afternoons we quietly slip out of the office to get our fix. The staggering number of Starbucks coffee shops reflects the demand for it, and coffee has indeed become the necessary component to sustain the American workaholic lifestyle.

Looking back, I can’t believe it seemed such a luxury to buy a glass of frappuccino. At that time, about 10 years ago, there weren’t that many Starbucks coffeeshops in the Philippines so if you chance upon one, it’s your lucky day so you might as well enjoy a drink. Yet even if we rarely come across a Starbucks shop, we all knew, deep inside, its magnitude– how it has quietly tucked multiple clones of itself into the busy streets of Manila, how it has quietly set up shop at urban corners, catering to the demands of those who can spend 100 pesos for a cup of coffee when a bag of coffee probably costs around 20 pesos.

Starbucks is an example of a brand that can market itself as a simple, comfortable place to get your morning coffee in the States, and as a place to get luxurious treats that appeal to kids and intrigue mothers in another part of the world. I find that these varied perceptions of one thing and the ensuing culturally-nuanced relationships with one brand deeply interesting. Don’t you?


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