I dig Starbucks. I do. The stores are clean and well-ventilated. The staff smiles and makes eye contact. Rarely does my superdrink fail to realize the promise of untamed choco-exuberance implicit in its moniker.
That said, the notion of Starbucks as a next-gen agora strikes me as a little off. Certainly Starbucks has become the default “we can meet at…” destination for weary travelers and cautious first-daters, but that’s more because of its ubiquity than its charm. Its dominance, really, is fueled in equal measure by homogeneity and basic competence. You can say, “I’ll meet you at Starbucks” and know, give or take an ergonomically unforgiving stool, what you’re going to get. That’s a compliment; global-scale consistency isn’t easy to achieve nowadays.
Alas, Starbucks has chosen to run with its center-of-community self-image in “Meet Me At Starbucks,” which the company bills as an “interactive film” celebrating “the good things that happen when we get together.” Per the YouTube blurb, the clip was filmed in 28 countries over the course of a single day. Hey, give them some small morsel of credit for going with a title other than “A Day in the Life of Starbucks.”
But that’s what this is: a typical day-in-the-life-of-whatever writ large and dull. We start with shots of lights turning on inside Starbucks stores in the pre-dawn hush, designed to alert temporally challenged viewers that, indeed, the day formally begins in the morning. Shortly thereafter, we see a clean-cut ‘Buckser opening a store door, the literal and symbolic unfettering of a new day’s vast potential, at least for Wi-Fi hobos and anyone rendered homeless by the exterminator.
But the by-the-numbers approach is the least of the film’s problems. Over the course of six laborious minutes - which is like four hours in ADD/Internet time - “Meet Me At Starbucks” attempts to chronicle every possible group interaction that could conceivably take place within the store’s boundaries.
There’s a babies-looking-cute/families-acting-familial segment, complete with a shot of an ultrasound photo on a customer’s iPhone. There’s a people-administering-physical-affection segment, which is as hug- and shoulder-grasp-heavy as anything you’ll see outside an emotional-IQ testing lab. There’s an unrelated kissing montage, which wowed me with the realization that smoochie-smooch technique transcends geography. There’s a people-making-playing-and-otherwise-enjoying-music segment, though not the natural other-customers-rolling-their-eyes-at-earnest-guy’s-acoustic-rendition-of-“Rain King” follow-up.
Every interaction here is not merely blindingly obvious, but also seemingly engineered for the purpose of inclusion in the mini-film. I don’t buy that the gaggle of tech aficionados just happened to bring their circa-1982 computers to Starbucks on the day the cameras were rolling (nor that any Starbucks in this galaxy would have the electrical resources to power the lumbering machines). I don’t buy that the hipster illustrators would just happen to pick this very day to embark on a coffee-cup-inscribing art project. I call BS on the spontaneity of “Meet Me At Starbucks” and thus, sadly, on the notions of community it depicts.
That’s the inherent problem with the concept. It’s unlikely that a filmmaker will randomly happen upon something fun and bizarre - say, a group of customers pushing the furniture wall-ward and enjoying a spontaneous round of Twister, or a low-key wedding. If there’s nothing more uncommon and community-minded going on at Starbucks on an average day than scrapbooking, knitting and furrow-browed strategizing, it’s time to rethink the premise of your brand video.
Perhaps my view of “Meet Me At Starbucks” is skewed by my own brand experience. In the years I’ve been frequenting Starbucks, I haven’t borne witness to anything that could conceivably be described as community-unifying; I haven’t seen acts of graciousness or decency beyond the occasional holding of a door. My personal eyewitness ratio of nuzzling:eye-bleeping-the-person-with-the-best-access-to-the-electric-outlets is something like 1:6,200.
As a result, “Meet Me At Starbucks” comes across as an exercise in wishful thinking. It’d be wonderful if Starbucks were to someday realize this idealized version of itself, but I’d settle for a quirkier, shorter and more genuine depiction of life within its walls.