So I was walking down 15th Ave. E. this morning and passed a TV camera setting up in front of the 15th and Thomas Starbucks,

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Save Our Starbucks: The Campaign

So I was walking down 15th Ave. E. this morning and passed a TV camera setting up in front of the 15th and Thomas Starbucks, one of the seven Seattle locations that is closing. There were two people grinning anxiously at the prospect of talking on camera, and one of them called out to me as I scurried past, "Sign a petition to save the 15th Avenue Starbucks?"

I'm in the middle of Buying In, a book by Rob Walker, whose "Consumed" column is always the first thing I read in the New York Times Magazine. Walker's book on "murkiting" focuses on the ways that brands and consumers' identities are merging, and how tactics like viral marketing, sub rosa corporate sponsorships, and smart design (i.e., iPods) are succeeding at getting customers to buy in to brands more effectively than any of us would imagine.

A grassroots save-our-Starbucks petition campaign fits right in with Walker's theories. Sure, Starbucks is trying desperately on every front to reassure nervous investors, shed underperforming stores, and respond to consumers who are once again seeing their daily $4 latte as a luxury, but the company is also reminding all of its customers not to take their local for granted: that Starbucks isn't just a massive corporation, it's a part of their daily life, and they'd better treasure their own Starbucks experience or it'll go away. All these petitions are garnering an awful lot of free press, thanks to customers who are desperate to share their love for the brand on television, the Internet, and print.

When I talked to one of my coworkers about my response to the 15th Ave. petition, she said, "This petition campaign seems too coordinated to not be corporate sponsored."

I disagree. Not only because I've been reading Walker's book, with its tales of viral-marketing volunteers sharing "the good news" about new brands with their friends simply because they want to be part of something larger than themselves, but because my mother is a regular at the Crown Point, Indiana, store. When I reported to her the first news of the closures, her first response was, "I'll be heartbroken if they shut down mine," and she's not prone to hypberbole. Two weeks later, when the final list came out, I didn't have the heart to tell her when I spotted her store on it. (She doesn't read this blog, so I'm still in the clear.)

I foresee a reprieve for the stores that get the most customer love/advertising -- say, 20 or 50 of them. What does it hurt Starbucks, after all, to keep a few of the 600 open, since each of the "winning" stores is bound to see an upsurge in business for at least a couple more years?

As for me, I didn't sign the petition -- I've made my peace with the 15th Ave. store closure. After all, there's a kiosk in the Safeway across the street.

 
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