Starbucks and the Bee

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Coffee juggernaut Starbucks recently named former Herbie Hancock manager Alan Mintz to be its newest player to help in the quest for more of your disposable income. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mintz will help Starbucks shape its entertainment offerings and help it become more of an entertainment destination for consumers.

Starbucks has had some good results in the past with its entertainment offerings, particularly in music. In 2004, it sold 1 out of 4 copies of the Grammy-winning Ray Charles album "Genius Loves Company”. However, its plan to teach Hollywood a lesson about how to make and sell movies met with less than stellar success during the recent release of the film "Akeelah and the Bee".

Many people seemed to find the marketing campaign for the film confusing, us included. What was with all the green post-it notes all over our local Starbucks? It was all pretty much a mess. Only after seeing some print adds and a TV spot did we realize that it was actually a film that Starbucks was pushing and not some new kind of coffee or pastry.

Sources familiar with the campaign also conceded that Starbucks’ customers found it confusing and didn’t quite understand what was being sold. The fact that the film did less than spectacular numbers at the box office could also be a clue that something wasn’t working on the marketing side. Even though the film was generally well reviewed by critics, seats were empty.

Of course, Starbucks maintains that they measure success not necessarily by how successful something is but rather by the “reception” of its customers. And they feel the campaign resonated with customers and was well received. Lions Gate Films, which co-produced the movie with Starbucks’ Entertainment and released it, had a more direct reason for the films performance. Lions Gate executives privately say the white viewers they were counting on Starbucks to deliver never showed up in great numbers.

We pride ourselves on having some kind of knowledge about how things work here in Los Angels and how things work in the "business" too. The fact that we didn't quite "get" the marketing leads us to one of two conclusions. Either we don't actually know what we are talking about or Starbucks has something to learn about how to market a film. Just because you know how to filter hot water through beans doesn’t mean you know everything about everything.

So Starbucks you better get busy. Time to go back to school.