Dumb Starbucks is just kind of a dumb idea.
“Legally speaking, we’re operating as an art gallery,” said Nathan Fielder, perpetrator of a brand-parody stunt that had Fielder serving free coffee to people under the alternative-universe name of Dumb Starbucks.
Its value as art or parody is a matter of conjecture. But what does it say about Starbucks as a brand?
Brands becoming victims to parody is nothing new. The larger and more ubiquitous they become, the fairer the game. Nobody feels bad for Goliath.
Did coffee’s Goliath, Starbuck’s, handle good-natured ribbing appropriately? Stone Ward’s Senior Account Manager for Public Communications, Dana Dussing Berry, weighs in.
“You can approach it one of two ways,” Dana says. “You can do what Starbucks ultimately did and allow your legal team to protect the brand. Or, you can roll with the punch and play along.”
What would have Dana advised?
“Starbucks really doesn’t need third-party publicity,” she said. “Allowing the legal department to be the bad guy is the smart move.”
Indeed. But what if Starbucks had played along with Fielder’s attempt at social commentary? Instead of lawyers and cease-and-desist orders, what if Starbucks had delivered its own coffee to Dumb Starbucks? What if they had shaken Fielder’s hand before the news cameras and offered him Starbuck’s for life? Why not wrest Fielder’s control of the moment by making it Starbuck’s moment?
It’s fun to consider the possibilities, but in the end Dana is right. Fielder had much more to gain than Starbucks. Why invite more brand malfeasance by legitimizing Fielder’s stunt?
It may have been as boring as java, no cream, no sugar, but Starbucks played Dumb Starbucks just right.