Sunday, June 26, 2011

Starbucks is in the Sanctimony Business

I remember when I used to enjoy Starbucks coffee cups. They had a series called 'The Way I See It', which would feature interesting quotes from various people. There was a lot of modish lefty claptrap, to be sure, but it was usually of the mild and inoffensive kind. And I would actually enjoy seeing what they had.

This was in part designed to appeal to snobbish sensibilities - look at us, identifying with educated thinkers of acceptable elite opinion! But they disguised this well, and it was generally a nice touch.

But sooner or later, they ran into the H.L. Mencken (or P.T. Barnum, depending on which website you believe) dictum that nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. The message of sanctimony was a bit too subtle. How to jazz it up? The answer, of course, was this monstrosity:


That's right, apparently buying your $4 coffee makes you a regular Mother Theresa for the word's poor. Never mind the acres of newsprint devoted to exposing what a sham "fair trade" coffee is. (If it was purchased consensually and not taken at the point of a gun, that's fair trade enough in my opinion).

No, what is hilarious is how blatant they are in trying to make you feel puffed up and proud for your role in helping the poor. They've reached the reductio ad absurdum of anti-poverty campaigners - no need to change your behaviour, just feel good about the things you were doing anyway! Could they make it any more explicit that this campaign has absolutely nothing to do with third world coffee farmers and everything to do with how you feel about how special you are for helping out third world coffee farmers? Don't be surprised when marketers see through this sham and react to the incentives that customers are providing - helping poor people is expensive but making people feel self-righteous is cheap! Let's increase the amount of self-righteousness per unit of help to poor people!

I can't decide what is more depressing - the fact that Starbucks thinks their customers are this hollow and conceited, or that they're probably right.

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