Fast Company

Has Jamba Juice's Controversial Ad Just Pureed Its Billion-Dollar Dreams? [UPDATE]

Smoothie operator Jamba Juice finds itself in the social-media whirl for an ad that reputedly rips off a popular comic strip. Exclusive interviews with Jamba CEO James White and cartoonist David Rees.

james white jamba juiceWhen James White, the still new CEO of Jamba Juice, stopped by our offices a few weeks ago, we'll admit we were excited. Who hasn't been occasionally seduced by the charms of its Pomegranate Pick-Me-Up (Jamba's signature blend of strawberries, blueberries, pomegranate juice, and raspberry sorbet)? White came by to explain to Fast Company his strategy to turn Jamba Juice into the next billion-dollar brand and potential Starbucks slayer.

Given the whirl of controversy online about Jamba's new ad campaign being a ripoff of the work of cult cartoonist David Rees' Get Your War On series, White appears to have forgotten the first rule of holes: When you're in one, stop digging. Since going public in 2006, Jamba expanded too rapidly and in the wrong locations. It had pulled back on local marketing when its competitors--such as Starbucks and Smoothie King--were growing. And last year, for the first time in the chain's history, same-store sales were down 8.1%. Its stock price, which closed yesterday at $1.10, is so anemic that it could use an immunity boost. White was brought in from Safeway to turn around the $343 million smoothie maven.

jamba juice ad comparison

"People know us and people like us," White explained during his visit. "But in this day and age," when customers can buy sandwiches at Starbucks and smoothies at Whole Foods, "they want more than frozen-fruit drinks." Like authenticity.

White's strategy hinges on attracting more college-age and tech-savvy customers. His store-expansion plans include opening more Jamba stores inside malls ("where it's 70 degrees all year round") and on college campuses ("College kids like us"). He cited Jamba doubling the number of its Facebook fans on the group it runs--it now stands at more than 200,000 strong. Maybe White could tweak his plans to target customers who don't use the Internet?

jamba juice storeThe controversy first began bubbling up last Thursday when Rees read a fan letter alerting him to the ad, confused because the style so clearly evinced his GYWO strips."I like to think of it in terms of hip-hop," Rees said when we reached him this afternoon. "Jamba Juice bit my style, with no credit, and it's kind of disrespectful."

Rees responded, satirically calling for a "National Day of Prayer." Fans such as The Daily Show resident expert John Hodgman picked up the cause over the weekend, tweeting about the suspected appropriation--"ACTUAL NON JOKE RT ABOUT SOMETHING THAT ENRAGES ME @JamesUrbaniak Blog post on l'affaire Jamba: http://tinyurl.com/ldpo9t #jambajuicefail"--and having some fun with Jamba's ad agency Neighbor whose marketing materials express "We are all neighbors. It's time for us to be the best neighbor we can be. Let's do unto others. Let's clean up after ourselves." If you're scoring at home, Neighbor would be 0 for 4 in its mission statement. Rees would like to feel neighborly about this, but he can't deny the potential harm to his reputation. "I don't want to sound like a grumpy, old egomaniac," he says. "But I don't want people to think I was commissioned by Jamba Juice to make a lame Internet ad about their lame juice. That makes me sound like a sellout, and I'm not."

Thus far, Jamba hasn't responded to the controversy on its Web site or Facebook page (a few individual stores have Twitter accounts, but there is no national Jamba tweetstream), which has now been picked up by Consumerist, BoingBoing, and others. UPDATE: Kim Larson, Jamba's VP of marketing, just sent us a statement, calling the indicent a "misunderstanding." Full text following this article.

Jamba juice fruit and cupIt's hard to see how Jamba is going to execute its strategy to become more a part of its customers' lives when it can't handle an online viral ad. Jamba wants to use its new locations and loyal fans to transform Jamba into a breakfast and lunch destination. Earlier this year, White launched oatmeal for breakfast, and just last month, he started testing lunch--salads, sandwiches, and pizza-type "California Flatbreads." "Previously, Jamba food was more of a hobby," White says of the soft pretzels and baked goods that made up the menu before his makeover. "We want people to have a passion for it."

White has also struck deals with several manufacturers, such as Think WOW Toys and Oregon Ice Cream Co., to start producing Jamba yogurt, Jamba sorbet, Jamba frozen smoothie bars, Jamba breakfast and snack bars, Jamba blenders, and Jamba packaged boosts that will be sold in higher-end retailers, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. "We see this as a billion-dollar opportunity," White says. Hey, what could go wrong?

Here's the thing, Mr. White: It's easy to talk about passion and dream of turning a simple juiceteria into a player with the likes of Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, and Starbucks. It's another thing to live it. David Rees is not likely to topple your company and its grand plans, as he joked on his blog: "All I care about is destroying Jamba Juice and their overpriced dumb-ass juices. EAT A PIECE OF FRUIT, you morons, you're missing most of the fiber." But the Internet and Web 2.0 are very much about who gets it and who doesn't. And billion-dollar brands don't seemingly go out of their way to alienate the very audience they're targeting.

Jamba's response, via Kim Larson, VP of marketing:

"In the spirit of promoting Jamba's message of summer bliss we specifically chose Tom Tierney-created clip art images to illustrate the state of office bliss-less-ness we were hoping to alleviate through our products. The Summer Bliss campaign has been running since May 25th using these stylized images to promote a light-hearted message of summer fun."

"We understand there has been misunderstanding about the Summer Bliss campaign artwork and the comic strip created by David Rees due to the use of these clip art images. Jamba Juice would like to expressly communicate that the Summer Bliss promotion was not intended to imply any affiliation with Mr. Rees, Mr. Rees' endorsement of Jamba Juice and its products, or Jamba Juice's endorsement of Mr. Rees' work."

[Jamba Juice Store Photo: Lee Brimelow | CC BY 2.0]

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14 Comments

  • David Dean

    "More stores inside malls? Does anyone even go to malls anymore?"

    Nobody makes Jamba Juice a destination, it's a convenience purchase you might choose over the closest starbucks. The mall idea makes perfect sense.

    "And more stores on college campuses? Do college kids usually have a ton of money to spend?"

    Yes, and they're very likely to spend it on small luxuries that they don't need. Been a while since you've been around a college campus? :)

  • David Dean

    Wait, so the ad agency used clip art that may or may not have been used legally... and so we're all hating on Jamba Juice now why? Oh, and this cartoonist needs to get off his soapbox, this is the best exposure he's ever had.

  • Therese French

    Article sites: "It had pulled back on local marketing..." What more do I have to say? This is a product you have to have EXPERIENCE with to fully appreciate it's value. Branding by "agency standards" doesn't work-- if you want to build a loyal following, give THE LOCALS value and a great product and they'll bring everyone of their friends. We're in the viral age... what you do right will naturally be talked about. This ad or not--I'd never step foot in the place on the ad alone. It does nothing for ME the CONSUMER... give me a coupon for a free smoothie- make me an experimental customer who falls in love with your product-- and I'll tell all my friends! I'll tweet it, I'll face book it, I might even look for their site and bookmark it. Give me a lame overused "clip art image" with a lame call to action and I'm making my own smoothie for pennies on the dollar AT HOME!

  • Jeffrey Pohl

    Quite a marketing snafu. But, I'm more amazed by the whole strategic direction for the stores...

    More stores inside malls? Does anyone even go to malls anymore?

    And more stores on college campuses? Do college kids usually have a ton of money to spend?

  • Lydia Sugarman

    I'm more inclined to condemn their lame agency, Neighbor, for stealing. They knew exactly what they were doing. Clients put their trust and dollars into hiring a "creative" agency to develop something unique, not "appropriate" an artist's work and sell it as their own. Lazy scumbags!

  • bill braden

    This article is misleading. There is no controversy. If the statement by Jamba Juice is correct, David Rees didn't create the art and doesn't own the copyright. It's clip art, which means that the owner (it sounds like it is Tom Tierney)has an agreement for people to use the image by paying a royalty. Creating a comic strip using clip art doesn't make you the owner, and Rees has no right to complain about anything! If your imagery is sacred to you, then create original art and copyright it.

  • Daryle Hier

    Jamba Juice is like a lot of companies - lost in its own shadow of incompetent marketing. Want to show passion and engage the consumer? Go out and get face-to-face with customers. Use marketing that grabs immediate interest and stimulates action. This stuff they're doing now is shooting themselves in the foot. But that's nothing new in the world of marketing. Want more simple advice - get rid of the agency!

  • Charles Kerr

    Layoff White and his ad agency. Using clip art in underground cartoons has easily been around for 25 years. Rees has done absolutely nothing new here. Just coincidence that the ad agency and Rees used the same clip art guy.

    There's nothing to this article -- maybe Fast Company could have some kind of special signal for readers indicating that an article is pointless and that they might want to spend their time doing something else. Possibly the headline could be in red?

  • G R

    The goal to rebirth old material as new is just a desperate measure to rediscover gold in an empty mine. Although, I'm sure Jamba is trying to attract a younger demographic and probably thinks it can pass dated material as fresh and impress the hoard of geeky, health nuts. Frankly, I think the comics are terrible and look so expired. I personally stopped drinking Jamba or homemade smoothies when I discovered how much sugar came with the extra vitamins and benefits in the "fruit". Water with a lemon/lime is just fine for me.

  • Rick Maher

    obvious marketing blunder... with the number of decent creativity shops out there, easy to kick neighbor to the curb.

    /what's with the poor grammar in this article??

  • Peter Tellep

    @Noah - if you are right, then this is a non-issue, other than Jamba may want to check how much this public domain image cost them, both in terms of what the agency charged them and the PR nightmare.

  • Noah Waterman

    I think it's only fair to mention that the graphics of the ads in question are public domain clip art, that Rees doesn't actually draw the GYWO comics. So copyright issues here aren't so clear cut.

  • Anonymous

    People steal my copyrighted photographs on occasion. At first I got really mad then I realized I do not care, because the companies that steal are a joke anyways.

  • Kevin Ohannessian

    Reminds me of the Pop Tarts / Don Hertzfeldt kerfuffle from a few years ago. Is it sad that I would still like to go get a green tea smoothie? Must fight urge...