OPINION: Mills on ... Starbucks

They are by no means alone, but Americans seem to have a peculiar

talent for mangling - some might say murdering - and manipulating the

English language. I once ordered an omelette in Manhattan, made (the

menu said) from 'whole, fresh eggs'. Wow - eggs that were both whole and

fresh. As opposed to what exactly?

As you can guess, I have an instinctive distrust of any person or

institution that mistreats language this way. In 1984, George Orwell

demonstrated that those who seek to rule over us first hijack the


Take Starbucks. It offers three sizes of coffee: 'tall', 'grande' and

'venti'. Apart from the fact that 'grande' and 'venti' are stupid names

and irritate me to distraction, what really gets my goat is the fact

that in ascending order of size, Starbucks coffees go from 'tall' to

'grande' to 'venti'. And that's the easy bit. Just buying a coffee in

Starbucks is phenomenally complicated. Do I want an

iced-decaff-skimmed-Arabian-mocha-Java-caramel-macchiato with wings?

Fuck knows. I want a coffee, not a lifestyle statement.

You may say this is all harmless hype and exaggeration, the sort of

theatricality that all good retailers practice. I disagree. In my world,

tall means big, and anyone who says 'tall' when they mean 'smallest' is

signalling their intent to practice deception on a larger scale.

You'd be right in thinking, therefore, that I harbour an intense dislike

for Starbucks. I do, however, like the advertising. Unlike the chain

which is bland and, according to US press reports, insanely aggressive,

Fallon's last few print campaigns have been fresh, charming and

self-deprecating. They used the inherent daftness of the product names

(frappucino, macchiato, etc) to give the brand a tone it seems to lack

in real life. Now, Fallon has moved Starbucks into the cinema with a

pair of ads designed to position the chain as home from home or, as

Starbucks likes to claim, the 'third space' (although not, I hope, to be

confused with PlayStation's third place). In one ad, a middle-aged man

complete with brown slip-on shoes and a walrus moustache (nice touches

those, designed to show that you don't have to wear Gap or fcuk to

frequent Starbucks) pops in after a hard day's work. He gets his coffee

and we see him reclining on a sofa, feet up and shirt undone - just like


In the second, a girl readies herself for a night out. Her boyfriend is

doing a jigsaw. She asks him if he wants to come out too, but he

declines. The camera pulls back to show they are in Starbucks.

The rationale behind the ads is pretty straightforward. Cafe society is

on the rise, but it's a vicious war out on the high street: Costa, Caffe

Nero and Pret are all hard at it. Against this background, and having

built its coffee credentials, the name of the game for Starbucks is to

mark its patch. Unlike bars or pubs, coffee bars are for grabbing some

personal space and relaxation time, either alone or in company. So for

Starbucks to use 'home from home' as an identifier is not without


Fans of Cheers - the bar 'where everyone knows your name' - and Friends'

Central Perk will recognise the idea. Tonally, the ads reinforce the

idea: relaxed, friendly, unpretentious.

I have a quibble though. Norm and Cliff, the prop-up-the-bar residents

of Cheers, and to a lesser extent Ross, Rachel and the others who hang

around Central Perk, are losers. They haven't got homes to go to. That's

why they're always in Cheers or Central Perk. So why would I want to go

to a coffee bar that's full of people like that?

Still, not much danger of that yet. I popped into Starbucks in Kingston

at 9am one day last week: two staff, two customers.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Nice ads, shame about the place.

Will it work? I sincerely hope not.

What would the chairman's wife say? You used to love those Gold Blend

ads, didn't you?

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