Commentary

'Meet Me At Starbucks' Lacks Spontaneity And A Notion Of Community

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.”

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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.

5 comments about "'Meet Me At Starbucks' Lacks Spontaneity And A Notion Of Community".
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  1. Dave Devencenzi from dave.devencenzi@circa-now.com, October 2, 2014 at 3:23 p.m.

    I think your POV is totally skewed. I see groups interacting all the time, and I totally buy into the video. It's a beautifully shot film that teaches me about the world in a small way

  2. Nicholas Fiekowsky from (personal opinion), October 2, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.

    I agree - posed spontaneity is truly insincere. It erodes trust - "If they think I'm dumb enough to believe this all happened the same day without planning, maybe they're ready to lie to me about product quality, too.

    What would it have been like if they had crowd-sourced the segments? Restricted them to Vine format? Would that have been too edgy, spontaneous and diverse for a hip community center?

    Some Starbucks have community. A group of friends meets at a local Starbucks just about every morning. We would share a French Press, the most cost-effective coffee for a group. Until the store broke it.

    I see and catch up with a friend who uses it for his office some mornings. Another fellow plays guitar many mornings.

  3. Christine Ryder from Unruly, October 2, 2014 at 4:05 p.m.

    I have a very specific filter for determining whether a video passes my personal smell-test (#ydb). While I agree with the improbability of the vintage computer club meeting with equipment, I had an almost opposite opinion of the film.

    The larger message to me, was NOT about Starbucks being the center of community. Starbucks was a bit player in this film (and obviously the exec producer). I thought the story unfolded beautifully and while long, held me interested in seeing glimpses of new friendships, new romance, new business, new partnerships, new adventures, new art, new possibilities. But also of simple gestures, connections, touches, instances.

    This film was a reminder that the everyday bits of life ARE in fact... life.

    Advertising often celebrates those big life events because we spend so much money on them. But everyday we get little moments holding hands, or blowing through straws or waiting, drawing, thinking, drinking.

    Color me hopelessly romantic but Starbucks simply used their position as a global brand to reflect the humanity and normalcy of every day life across places and people and interests. It's a little bit like wanting "to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." I want to go give everyone a hug right now.

    These interactions might seem obvious and therefore trite to some. But I think finding something spectacular in the mundane and ordinary is reason to smile whether the cameras are on or off.

  4. Ceasar Sanchez from N/A, October 3, 2014 at 6:56 a.m.

    Thank goodness these things can be fast-forwarded to the end. There was no point at all to this marketing piece but, hopefully, the local crews got paid well for the single day shoot.

  5. Patrick Cardamone from The Cardamone Company, October 5, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.

    I thought the Starbucks short was great. A good form of content marketing. Hope they do more like this.

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