Business·Analysis

Building sense of community helps big brands make sales

Companies looking to attract Millenials stop mentioning products and place emphasis on their enviroments.
The 'Meet Me at Starbucks' ad campaign aims to build a sense of community at the company's stores. (Supplied by Starbucks)

You might think that retailers would be entirely focused on getting people to buy stuff. But while sales may be the ultimate goal, many retailers achieve that goal by simply inviting people to drop by for a visit.

Turns out all those people at the coffee shop who stare into screens instead of talking to each other are actually creating a sense of community.

When a company grows into a successful multinational corporation over decades, it can experience a problem. Since today's younger customers don't have any memory of its humble, intimate beginnings, they only see a massive, faceless, profit centre.

For Starbucks, with 20,000 stores in 65 countries, the worry is that it could lose its relevance and appeal for Millennials. So this past September, the company launched its first-ever brand campaign that doesn't mention a single product.

The centrepiece of the campaign is a short film shot in Starbucks locations in Prague, Montreal, Tokyo, and many other cities. We see people getting together for romance, hobbies, business meetings, birthdays and more. Type on the screen says, "Every day around the world, millions of people get together at Starbucks. But it's never been just about the coffee. Introducing Meet Me at Starbucks."

With "Meet Me at Starbucks," the company hopes to create the same sense of community among Millennials that their parents felt as they watched the company grow from infancy.

Back in 1998, Dairy Queen also wanted to create a sense of community, and it used exactly the same method.

In fact, it's a common strategy for companies to position themselves as a community meeting place rather than simply a retailer of products.

After all, instead of seeing ourselves as being motivated by consumerism, we'd prefer to think we're driven by the urge to have fun and be with people, just as Alan Thicke suggested in this 1983 ad.

Which may have been inspired by this 1960s commercial for an Illinois department store.

And for good measure, here's a 2010 commercial with jazz great John Pizzarelli singing about the sense of community at a Connecticut casino.

With its new campaign, Starbucks hopes to convince a new generation that inside its corporate monolith is a warm, human place where Millennials can meet and get to know each other.

The fact that Starbucks adopted the same strategy as other companies who found themselves in similar situations isn't surprising. What is surprising is that all these companies executed that strategy in exactly the same way. It's almost as if the creative people all decided to meet at the corner of laziness and lack of imagination.


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.

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