Starbucks' move to 'local' signals death of the superbrand

Could the end of the super-brand be nigh? It certainly looks one step closer, after it was revealed coffee colossus Starbucks is planning to strip the branding out of three of its stores in the company’s home town of Seattle, transforming them instead into bohemian cafes with a more ‘community personality’.

The new cafes, which will swap the chain’s brown-and-browner decor for poetry and music recitals and even a menu which includes – gah! – alcohol, are said to be a reaction against  falling sales over the past year, after the recession began to take its toll on the company.

The de-branding exercise (yes, we made that one up – but isn’t it apt?) represents a marked change of strategy for a chain which has until now placed a strong emphasis on ubiquity across all its stores, but has prompted some critics to accuse the company of underhand tactics – dubbed ‘stealth Starbucks’.

In many ways, it’s the natural conclusion of recent marketing campaigns which sought to push the brand’s ethical values. ‘A cheaper cup of coffee... comes with a price’, proclaimed one press advert, which touted Starbucks' Fair Trade principles.

Business magazine Management Today points out you can hardly blame Starbucks for ‘reacting to what consumers want’, and Smarta applauds the company’s open-minded approach. That said, we’re unconvinced a coat of paint and some continental beer can really recreate sense of community atmosphere true local businesses create completely organically.

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