WORDS FROM W.W. November 4, 2009
“Having A Starbucks Image”
I recently read a new book by Bryant Simon, a professor of History and American Studies at Temple University, entitled Everything But The Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks. I frequent Starbucks, so it was an interesting book exploring different emphases of the business.
Simon makes the point that everything a person sees and encounters in any Starbucks establishment has a purpose behind it. The seating arrangement, the placing of overly-expensive espresso machines, the CD’s situated by the cash registers, the language that is used to order a drink . . . everything has a purpose behind it.
The purpose of each element is pointed towards the main strategy of creating a certain image in the customer’s mind. Starbucks wants each person to feel special. It puts within the reach of a large part of our population certain products, and sells us on the idea that purchasing these products will make us feel . . . special.
To understand that best let me use a different business establishment. Think fast food hamburgers! My guess is that every one of us has been in a hamburger place and felt like we were imposing on the employees in just being there. There was an absence of specialness . . . even if what we ordered had “special sauce” on it.
Starbucks sells us on the idea that we are special, “and these are the things special people drink and buy.”
Bryant Simon visited 425 Starbucks outlets in nine countries in his research for the book. I have to filter his observations a little bit because of his increasing irritation with the company, but the one observation that stuck with me is that Starbucks creates an image, protects that image, but sometimes keeps the image propped up when there is no commitment to its messages.
Starbucks touts itself as eco-friendly, but I can’t remember the last time I was in a Starbucks and they asked me if I wanted a coffee mug that could be washed afterwards. It’s always a Starbucks cup that is just 10% recycled material. In other words, for a business that trumpets “being green” there isn’t much substance underneath the statement.
This article, however, is not meant to be a Starbucks bashing session. (I took my own mug there this morning for some java!) It’s meant to be a teachable moment for the church.
We need to ask ourselves “Are we conveying an image that we really aren’t willing to live out?” The church of Jesus Christ can communicate how wonderful we are, but are their feet underneath the veneer?
A number of years ago a friend of mine had a picture of himself standing next to Ronald Reagan. It was a great picture, and I wondered where he and the former president had been in the same place for the photo op. But the closer I looked at it the more I realized he was making a life-size cardboard cut-out of the president look like real life. It was as fake as a three-dollar bill.
The body of believers must have deep-rooted commitment to what we say we’re about and what we really are about. Otherwise we risk being a spiritual version of Starbucks- all fluff and foam but limited authenticity.

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