Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Genius of Starbucks

Once again, my hat is off to the genius of Starbucks. These guys are good. Really good. I've commented before about my amazement that they were able to force their stupid size names on us with very little resistance on our part, and that they succeded so spectacularly that now food service businesses everywhere use the Starbucks size names.

But they've succeeded in a new coup as well, and this one's a lot more subtle. I admit I only just picked up on it. Let me share it with you. It concerns the frappucino and all its variants.

The Frappucino is a milkshake.

That may not immediately seem like earth shattering news, but just stay with me on this. I noticed this because the other day, I was getting my morning coffee at Starbucks when two dudes walked in. Two guys, early twenties, friends, just stopping in for a little summer refreshment. They both order venti chocolate chip frappucinos (one of them reassuring the other that there's nothing coffee flavored in it) and they both get these enormous drinks and sit down, facing each other, insert the big straws and start drinking their frappucinos and talking.

Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Well, it made me think. What if, hypothetically, you changed the Starbucks into an old fashioned ice cream parlour. It's got the candy colored decor, the friendly old man who scoops your ice cream, the black and white tiled floor... Now, can you imagine the same two dudes walking in, approaching the counter, buying a pair of chocolate milkshakes, sitting down opposite each other at a cozy table and sharing a relaxing conversation? Two dudes, drinking milkshakes. Together.

No, I really don't see it. It just wouldn't happen. Guys don't turn to other guys and say "Hey bro, you want to go down to the old ice cream parlor, get a milkshake and hang out for a while?" No guy would say that. They might as well get a couple of parasols and skip down the street holding hands.

But the frappucino thing goes way beyond tricking dudes into sharing a milkshake. The frappucino has single-handedly revitalized the milkshake business, which, let's face it, was not too strong. Peek your head inside a Baskin Robbins. (mmm, fresh waffle cone) Is there anyone in there? No. Even if there is, is anyone buying a milkshake? No.

No one wants to buy a milkshake because milkshakes are terrible for you and everyone knows it. It's easy to scarf down a burger and excuse it. To eat a cookie or a doughnut once in a while. But there's something about ordering a milkshake, I think, that just lets you know you've gone too far. A milkshake has to be preapared. You have to request its creation. It's not just sitting on a plate making you feel like if you don't eat it it will just go to waste. You need a special store or special equipment to get your hands on one. We as health conscious consumers have managed to reject the milkshake.

But suddenly, Starbucks changes the name to frappucino and it's open season. (I went and actually looked up calorie comparisons of milkshakes and frappucinos and they're basically equivalent. If you don't believe me, look it up yourself. I lost the link.)

People are actually drinking frappucinos every day and they're completely oblivious to the fact that they've got a daily milkshake habit. And if they knew they were consuming a milkshake every day I think they'd be horrified. And all this Starbucks-invented lingo... "extra pump", "no whip" etc. etc. I think the lingo exists purely so that the deception can be maintained. So that there's no mental connection between the beverage you just ordered and an extra-large milkshake, which is what it is.

Starbucks, basically, is a religious cult. They have an invented language meant to disconnect you from reality. They "love bomb" you with tasty forbidden treats to get you hooked. They play a non-stop patter of soothing, non-threatening jazz. And then before you know it you're dead broke and you've gained a pant size.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right about this, of course... but I also think, isn't two dudes getting together for "frappucinos" pretty pussyish too?