Starbucks, brand assassination and brand suicide


A devilish tool of guerilla marketers is brand assassination. The idea is to associate a competitor's brand with something or someone consumers consider vile; examples might be photoshopping a picture of Osama bin Laden drinking a Miler Lite to distribute virally, or paying Mike Tyson to compliment a competitor's women's spa, or sending Gary Glitter a free wardrobe of a competitor's suits. Starbucks competitors, however, haven't had to resort to such measures, because Starbucks has done the work for them, by committing brand suicide.

As my colleague Sarah Gilbert wrote earlier today, the Buck has decided that its path back to riches will be paved with instant coffee. The company that turned a commodity into a luxury item, that made the coffee house ubiquitous in our daily lives, is blithely tossing its brand into the scorched, bitter pot by associating its name with the most reviled coffee product on the market.

Imagine Mercedes-Benz marketing a line of logoed dumpsters. Chanel licensing No. 5 for scenting laundry detergent. Julia Child putting her name on frozen tater tots. The Pope endorsing Zig-Zag rolling papers.

This is the type of action that causes consumers to back away, suddenly suspicious that they've been played as rubes. Was this cup of coffee, they'll wonder, brewed or merely stirred? And what next? A Starbucks brand of powdered coffee bleach? How low can Starbucks go, before it reaches the grounds at the bottom of the pot?

Suicide by instant coffee. At least it'll be quick.

Read my short story about brand assassination