How Coffee Got So Hot

What could explain coffee's tremendous appeal? A close look at Starbucks reveals several possibilities. According to Fortune magazine, "Starbucks has created one of the greatest marketing stories of recent history." It all began in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1971, when Gerald Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegel opened the first store as a gourmet coffee shop. Howard Shultz purchased the six Starbucks stores which had opened by 1987; the stores, selling only whole beans and ground coffee, cost Shultz $3.8 million (Fortune, 1996). A trip to Milan in 1983 inspired Shultz to bring the European coffee shop to the United States. "He saw Italians congregate at hundreds of streetcorner espresso bars and thought he could export the idea to the States" (USA Today, p. B5). Earnings shot dramatically from $1 million in 1990 to $4.1 million in 1992 and to $26.1 million in 1995 (Schmitt, p. 80). How did Starbucks capture the attention of American consumers? True, the corporation tapped into a previously unmet need. True, Starbucks creates unique products by branding, such as the "frappaccino." But why are coffee drinkers so entranced? According to Schmitt, "Starbucks' emergence as the premier choice of coffee drinkers centers around its successful aesthetics- one that is largely based on style."

Starbucks created an aesthetic atmosphere all its own. Consumers experience a "soothing collection of things that seem to fit together," and are seduced (Schmitt, p. 82). Organic aesthetic elements, such as light wood tones and brown bags stimulate a naturalistic atmosphere. Inorganic touches, like glass shelves, polished marble counter tops, and modern white track lighting offer a contemporary feeling. The Starbucks logo demonstrates this dual message: a female human with long flowing hair, abstract-representational in form, is depicted in black and white and encircled by a band of green. This stylized presentation echoes the precision and artistic level of American offices- smooth, varnished light woods, dark marble, and well-designed blend of organic and modern touches have been in use for over a decade (Schmitt, p. 83). Starbucks packages lure consumers as well. Coffee beans hugged by smooth, straight, soft bags make the bumpy contents seem smooth; Chips Ahoy employs the same matte-feel packaging for hard cookies. Each package displays a design unique to the type of coffee in the collection. According to Scmitt, the colorful graphics offer planned divergence from a basic uniformity of style. "It is a poster-art look that uses a minimalist base accessorized by a touch of ornamentalism" (Scmitt, p. 84). Starbucks' organized, familiar style, although borrowed from known artistic looks, allures consumers.


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