When Inconvenience Becomes a Branding Statement

"Closed for re-connection to our roots."

“Closed for re-connection to our roots.”


For three hours today, for three long latte-less hours, every Starbucks in America will close, and in truth, that’s what the sign on those thousands of doors should be reading.

The purpose of the closure is so that the baristas can learn a “new set of standards” for preparing Starbucks’ brews, a bold gesture that reflects Howard Schultz’s frustration at the way the company has wandered away from its roots as a gemutlich gathering place, has lost the “Starbucks experience.”

It’s unusual for a brand to be so transparent in its admission of failure — or at least its slippage — and its need for recalibration.  But consider that in our Oprahesque, everyone-on-the-couch culture; it’s become standard practice for individuals to seek redemption through confession. 

Why shouldn’t companies follow suit?  While a bunch of competitors have jumped on this as a promotional opportunity — Dunkin Donuts is offering 99-cent lattes and cappuccinos — they feel gimmicky compared to what Starbucks has done. True, it’s probably a Grand Gimmick itself.  And yes, they could have broken this complex barista course into five-parts and slid it into normal business hours.  But the flamboyance of closing the door is a gesture that attracts attention and makes a branding statement at the same time.

Indeed, the willingness to forego three hours of $4 drinks to “get it right” makes a stronger branding statement than Dunkin Donuts’ jab in response. Will what Starbucks has done trigger a wave of copycat closures — McDonald’s going into temporary hibernation to give its flippers advanced deep-fat frying tutorials?  Will Apple close for a couple of hours to let their geniuses raise their IQs a few points?

I’m not sure, but I do know that we are in a new era where brands are willing — if not anxious — to air their dirty laundry in the interests of cleaner and fresher relationships with their customers. 


About the author

Adam is a brand strategist--he runs Hanft Projects, a NYC-based firm--and is a frequently-published marketing authority and cultural critic. He sits on the Board of Scotts Miracle-Gro, and has consulted for companies that include Microsoft, McKinsey, Fidelity and, as well as many early and mid-stage digital companies.