Brands in the News

The Starbucks Via Challenge

5 Oct 2009  

Let me start with a confession: I failed the Via challenge.

This morning I stopped by my local Starbucks.  I tried Via and then I tried the brewed coffee.  And I couldn’t tell the difference.  I was completely stumped.

I find this rather astonishing.  I am quite a coffee fan and I drink a lot of it.  I also had tried Via earlier this year and thought it was good but not quite up to snuff. 

So I am now convinced that Via is a good product.  Congratulations to Starbucks on this.

The question remains, however:  should Starbucks be investing in an instant coffee?

There are compelling reasons for Starbucks to be supporting Via.  Perhaps most importantly, Via opens up a new usage occasion for Starbucks.  When people can’t make it to a Starbucks location they can still enjoy a Starbucks coffee.  And Starbucks can get some additional revenue.  Indeed, while I was buying my brewed coffee and scone this morning I chatted with someone who was buying Via, and he explained that Via was perfect for days when he was running late and didn’t have time to stop in.

That said, I’m not convinced that the Via launch is a good move.  Starbucks has long worked to embrace the coffee experience, the crisp beans coming from exotic lands all over the world, the grinding noise, the wonderful aroma, the ritual of precisely measuring coffee and water and then waiting for it to brew.  Starbucks has taught us that coffee isn’t just coffee.  There is much, much more to it.

Via runs counter to all of that.  You don’t need to grind beans, you don’t need a special machine, you don’t need precise measurements.  You don’t need all those things you thought you needed.  Just open the pouch and pour it in.

There is no romance in Via.

To me this feels like a company going for short term growth and diluting its brand in the process.  Of course, this isn’t the first time that Starbucks has focused on growth at the expense of its brand; it is just the latest in a series of moves that has weakened what was once an incredibly powerful franchise.

3 Responses

  1. stillhere4u says:

    I am concerned about Starbuck’s strong-arm tactics and the scripted “conversations” used on customers to sell the new product. They show a rather sad view of the customer. I strongly recommend the following post:

  2. Ted Simon says:

    Good post, Tim.

    I had the same question in my mind regarding the fit with the Starbucks brand experience (although, I DID pass the test…easiest to tell the difference when you drink them both black).

    There was a lively debate on this very topic over on The Brand Farm marketing community site. that you might find interesting: “Starbucks Via – Smart business move or dangerous brand dilution?” Here’s a link:

  3. […] Check out the full post from Prof. Calkins here. […]

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