April 19, 2005

Companies that make us love them.

There are those companies people come to hate. Microsoft, Walmart, Starbucks. I'm not saying I hate them, but for whatever reason, they get a hate-vibe going, and it's got to hurt them. If only they could discover ways to inspire love.

Well, maybe that's why Starbucks let itself be the set for that Jon Stewart/Amy Sedaris bit on Oprah yesterday. I was just flipping channels and caught a little Oprah-after-the-show on Lifetime. We see Jon Stewart, on a wish-granting mission from Oprah, driving a van up to a Starbucks, and going in to talk to a sullen barista, played by Sedaris. When the Sedaris character realizes he's from Oprah, she goes nuts, quits on the spot, tells everyone she hated the job, throws cups around, and even sucks whipped cream out of the dispenser. Please love us, Starbucks seemed to be saying, we're willing to be the butt of a joke.

People starting new companies must think: don't let that Starbucks thing happen to us. If we're very successful -- deservedly so -- because we're very good, people might nevertheless start hating us, irrationally, just because we're successful, even though we're very good. They might even hold it against us that we're so good: as if it's not fair somehow that we've gotten the jump on everyone else.

So making them love us has got to be a big part of corporate planning these days, right? Anyway, that's what crossed my mind when I got this email from Flickr:
Hi Ann Althouse!

You may have heard on the grapevine that we planned to reward our dear Flickr members who bought a Pro Account in the early days. Well, it's true! And since you're one of those lovely people, here's a little something to say YOU ROCK!

1. Double what you paid for!
Your original 2 year pro account has been doubled to 4 years, and your new expiry date is Mar 30, 2009.

2. More capacity!
Now you can upload 2 GB per month.

3. 2 free Pro Accounts to give away to your friends!
This won't be activated for a day or two, but when it is, you'll see a note on your home page telling you what to do.

Thank you so much for putting your money where your mouth is and supporting us, even while we're in beta. Your generosity and cold, hard cash helped us get where we are today.

Kind regards,
The Flickreenies.

Love, love, love.

UPDATE: I only gave them $80.


Ron said...

sigh...here I am agreeing with Janeane Garofalo about something: Starbucks is the Bennigans of coffee. It's not bad, but I've never really liked their drinks, and don't go there if I can help it...I don't like them not because it's big, just not that good...

Joaquin said...

Why hate WalMart, Microsoft and Starbucks? Because of their success?
I don't know of any corporate entity that I hate. I do however have zero admiration for companies that refuse to adapt and refuse to accept the future.
Companie have a responsibility to 2 people: Customers and owners (stockholders).
Keep those two happy and they succeed. Piss-off one of them and they fail.

Mister DA said...

I can't really say too much about Starbucks' hate. The only one in my immediate area is in the local Barnes & Nobel, which makes it out of sight out of mind for most people. That, and the fact that the idea of a good cuppa java around here is what they serve at Big Boy. Even if Starbucks did show up in force, they wouldn't be killing any beloved, local shoppes, apparently the source of a lot of the ill-will they generates in places like my sister's home town of St. Paul-Minneapolis (guess which side of the river she lives on).

On the other had, we have seen a lot of Wal-Mart hate, and I do mean hate, in a close by town. It seems to be based entirely on the view that a Wal-Mart will kill a traditional, small town downtown business district deader then a doornail and do it overnight.

Yogo said...

Tim is right about the perception of WalMart killing small business. Around here, Starbucks has done the same thing to small coffee shops. There is an area here that I used to love to visit. There were coffee shops on every corner, but all different. Italian, French, some independent guy, Cuban. Once Starbucks hit the area all those small shops were gone. Like Tim said, deader than a doornail.

I don't dislike Starbucks coffee, I enjoy it. But I miss the variety we used to have. Sometimes I want a cafe con leche like the Cuban place used to serve in huge, colorful mugs.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I agree with Nappy and Timothy, and although I don't go so far as to boycott Starbucks, I don't go to them when there's an independent alternative.

The question is, though, why do all those people stop patronizing the locals and flock like lemmings to every Starbucks that opens? Is the attraction of a big name so irresistible? Is a non-reproducible atmosphere so threatening? In this age of consumer choice, don't people have the slightest remnant of independent decisionmaking capability?

Yogo said...

Richard, I think it's the attraction to the big name and deep pockets of a corporation. Perhaps people equate this to quality.

Ann Althouse said...

Nappy, Richard: Here in Madison, we have Starbucks and we have lots of independent cafés as well. Maybe the independents do well because Madisonians are the boycotting type, but as for me, I go where I like the coffee, the food, the music, and the atmosphere. Whichever is best. I bypass Starbucks for Espresso Royale, Michaelangelo's, and Fair Trade. The only time I choose Starbucks is when it's open and the others aren't, which is the case sometimes.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

The situation is similar here in Austin and, I suspect, in most other college towns. Many indies still thrive, and I patronize them first. But it's not for lack of predatory efforts by Starbucks.

Similarly, why, in a haven of Mexican food, is there a very popular Chili's a mile from me? My haircutter, who's Mexican-American, tells me it's for the country folk who come into Austin for their big weekends but are afraid of the city, and are comforted by the sight of an institution they've seen on TV.

BTW, I recommend Starbucks' little cans of espresso with milk and sugar, available at convenience stores, for long road trips. Also there's a good brand -- from India, I think -- called Mr. Brown's.

Yogo said...

Yes! They do use predatory efforts. In the area I mentioned, there are now 3 Starbucks. One is a drivethru, one is a small cafe, another is a big cafe. Why open 3 in a small area? They want ALL the business, not a niche that can compete with the others.

Richard, here in the other major metroplexae, Chili's is not a Mexican restaurant. It's similar to TGIF--huge drinks, young people, big TVs, nachos, etc.

Ann Althouse said...

Here in Madison, Starbucks took over a boarded up storefront on State Street and did a beautiful renovation. There are plenty of other cafés on State Street, including several that have opened after Starbucks. Starbucks took over a second boarded up eyesore on University Avenue, and again, did a lovely renovation. Two locally owned cafés near it remain open. Starbucks then took over a defunct Burger King building further west on University, again did a beautiful renovation. I think they've made a great improvement wherever they've gone in Madison. They are also part of two Barnes & Noble places on the far west and far east. I have only good things to say for Starbucks. When I'm traveling, I'm always happy to see a Starbucks, because I know I can get the NYT there. I still like to see local places, and I'm certainly not afraid to try them, but Starbucks assures a certain base line of quality, and the local places are required to be up to at least that level. When they aren't... well, then I take the position taken by the "South Park" geniuses in the great "Underpants Gnomes" episode!

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

State Street in Madison is an exception. One of the nation's finest collegiate pedestrian shopping streets, it can apparently absorb as many coffeehouses and used book stores as it has physical space for. And of course Starbucks stores look nice and clean and modern, but one could also praise the positive attributes of a big-box megastore that that threatens the existence of local businesses (and neighborhoods and watersheds).

I don't mind that there's a big corporation that serves good coffee in nice places. But I would hate it if those were the only places you could get good coffee. And that's the way the world is heading.

Nappy: I'm proud to say I've never set foot inside a Chili's so I don't know what-all they have there. I guess it's supposed to be a Southwestern restaurant, hence the name.

gyc said...

I can't really understand the hate some people have for Starbucks. From what I understand, they pay a fair wage well above minimum wage, offer health insurance and have some form of profit sharing. It seems like the company is doing everything to try to please the bleeding hearts. I guess it's just popular to hate anyone that's too big or popular. All Starbucks is doing is offering consumers a choice. People who are mad at Starbucks should instead focus the blame either on their fellow consumers who choose to flock to Starbucks over the local mom n' pops or the local coffee shop owners themselves for not offering an attractive enough product to keep consumers from going to Starbucks.

tcd said...

Richard Cohen,

I just bet you think you're better than the country folk who eat at Chili's, don't you? I've eaten at Chili's before (not ashamed to admit it) and the food, definitely not gourmet, is edible. If I want an excellent meal, I prepare it myself. I do try to avoid chain restaurants (because of my preference for home-cooking and different ethnic cuisines) but unlike you, Dick, I would never look down my nose at people who may choose to patronize these restaurants.

I patronize Starbucks because the coffee is actually good and fresh. I think their policy is to throw out any brew coffee after 1 hour or 30 minutes. A lot of independent cafes will not do this and will continue to serve coffee that's been sitting around for hours and one can always taste and smell stale coffee. I suppose the expense of a fresh brew every hour exceeds their profit margins. And that's why I prefer Starbucks.

Walmart, on the other hand, is totally contemptible to me. My main complaint about Walmart is that they pretend to be an American institution that benefits America, but all they really are is a hawker of cheap Chinese made goods with inflated prices paying their employees a minimum wage. That pretty much sums up the meaning of Walmart to me and I am damn proud to say that I have never set foot inside a Walmart.