In July, Starbucks opened three new coffee shops in Seattle which noticeably lacked its iconic branding. One of the unbranded, remodeled stores will simply be known as 15th Ave Coffee and Tea—a strategy executives are using to capture a more community-oriented feel. Essentially, Starbucks is trying to present itself as a neighborhood coffee shop instead of a corporate conglomerate that ruins small businesses. Critics have referred to the shops as “Stealth Starbucks” and while this sort of marketing is rather subversive, we really shouldn’t be surprised that it has emerged. In an environment in which consumers are bombarded with brand messages and have developed a hyper-awareness and distain for perpetually invasive marketing, companies need to soften their approach. Displacing the familiar slogans, and visual cues that are synonymous with a brand may be a risky move, but several marketers are going this innovative route.
Recently, Coca-Cola launched its “Open Happiness” campaign which consists of a song and music video that do not mention/show the company or any of its products. The campaign seems to be a hit with consumers (mostly outside the U.S.) and according to Umut Ozaydinli, Coca-Cola’s global music marketing manager, “the lack of an in-your-face Coke message is “one of the key reasons” consumers have shown interest in the song” (via: NYT) While not entirely an example of a self-displacement and unbranding, Pepsi began a campaign in Argentina encouraging Argentineans to refer to the brand as “Pecsi.” Pepsi is essentially promoting the “bastardizing [of its] brand name” (via: Naked). The soft drink company is not taking its branding too seriously and welcomes consumer interpretations of its brand. It’s not to say that companies engaging in self-unbranding and displacement are relinquishing control of their corporate identity to consumers—I think it’s quite the opposite.
Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are all taking proactive measures to remain relevant and competitive. These companies are catering to an audience whose persuasion knowledge is developing and is perhaps no longer easily susceptible to traditional marketing. Persuasion knowledge involves the interpretation of how people respond, interpret and react to persuasion and influence attempts (Friestad and Wright 1994). Ad messages, whether they occur as billboards, commercials, product placements or banner ads, are losing their effectiveness because of over-saturation. Marketing in general has become rather ubiquitous and invasive, which has resulted in the formation of a hyper-aware audience that sees through and ignores most campaign strategies. As audiences grow jaded and savvy, perhaps the next way for brands to successfully engage them, is by creating ads that do not look like ads. Marketing plans will need to emulate the covertness of Starbucks and Coca-Cola, but also entertain audiences on a personal level.
Friestad, Marian and Peter Wright. “The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How People Cope with Persuasion Attempts.” Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 21, No. 1. (June 1994).