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Craig J. Thompson Zeynep Arsel University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Marketing 975 University Ave. Madison, WI 53706
1 This study introduces the concept of the hegemonic brandscape to analyze a particular nexus of marketplace dynamics. The cultural discourses that surround Starbucks and the servicescape structures that the so-called Starbucks revolution has established as the linchpins of a desirable coffee shop experience exert a systematic influence on the socio-cultural milieu of local coffee shops, regardless of whether these shops are positioned as countercultural havens or a third-place hangout for middle-class professionals. We identify two types of local coffee shop patron who use the anti-Starbucks discourse in different ways and who imbue qualitatively different kinds of personal, social, and moral significance to their coffee shop preferences. Local coffee shop culture also provides access to contextualized cultural capital that mitigates some expected class-based differences in consumers’ aesthetic tastes. We discuss the implications of this cultural conceptualization for prior research on consumer-brand relationships, brand image, and oppositional brand loyalty.
2 If contemporary commentators are even remotely in the cultural ballpark, postmodernity is nothing less than the age of the brand. Brands are heralded as the key to successful marketing strategies and the very lifeblood of economic prosperity (Aaker and Joachimsthaler 2000; Keller 2000; Leonard 1997); brands are now analyzed as potent symbolic resources for the construction of personal and communal identities (Fournier 1998; Holt 2002; Muniz and O’Guinn 2001; McAlexander, Schouten, and Koenig 2002); and brands are often vilified as all-consuming ideological forces, colonizing cultural and economic life (Bové and Dufour 2001; Frank 1997; Klein 1999). Regardless of their salubrious or scurrilous sentiments, these pronouncements attribute social significance to brands that goes well beyond conventional notions of brand image and brand equity. Brands are essential threads that run throughout the fabric of popular culture, the new economic order, personal identity, and social affiliations. These postmodern paeans to the brand are indicative of the economic shift from the modernist machinations of heavy capitalism toward the flexible, mobile, and dynamic circuits of light capitalism (Bauman 2000). Beyond all the bubblicious hype that fueled the dot.com boom, light capitalism is distinguished by its view of production as a secondary activity to be outsourced to the greatest extent possible so that organizational resources can be devoted to creating brand value. Marketing-savvy corporations are now in the business of creating and nurturing brands that provide consumers compelling, captivating, and evocative meanings. As trenchantly summarized by Klein (1999, p. 23), “with this wave of brand mania comes a new breed of businessman, one who will proudly inform you that brand X is not a product but a way of life, an attitude, a set of values, a look, an idea.” In this hegemony-r-us world of global brands, some enjoy more celebrity and suffer more notoriety than others; think Nike, think Disney, think McDonald’s, think Coca-Cola, and think
3 Starbucks. The marketing success of Starbucks is legion. The Starbucks revolution has inspired a dramatic resurgence in American coffee consumption and made hanging out in coffee shops a fashionable leisure pursuit among the youthful arbiters of cool. Starbucks’ model of café cool has proven readily exportable on a global scale, sweeping through Canada, China, Japan, Taiwan, Britain, much of continental Europe, with bold plans to enter coffee mecca itself (Holmes 2002). Starbucks conquers Rome; grande or vente, Brutu? Starbucks’ market domination coupled with its increasingly aggressive expansion strategy— which the company acknowledges leads to a significant rate of cannibalization among its own stores (Holmes 2002)—also make this brand a lightening rod for protest and criticism. Starbucks is a rallythe-troops symbol for all the rapacious excesses and homogenizing effects attributed to globalization. Anti-Starbucks slogans and narratives pervade the internet and local retail trade. In the authors’ city of residence, for example, several local coffee shops do brisk business in “friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks” bumper stickers. One does not have to look very long before seeing pins and T-shirts brandishing culture jamming versions of the Starbucks logo that have been poached from the virtual plebiscite of cyberspace (see Figure 1). This paper concerns the extensive network of discourses, consumption practices, and consumption spaces organized around the Starbucks brand. If you frequent local coffee shops; if you work in or manage a coffee shop that is a local, regional or national competitor; or if you seek to study the experiences of local coffee shop consumption, there is no escaping Starbucks. Per this last point, our investigation began with the goal of understanding the consumption experiences and meanings that emerge in this form of third-place (Oldenburg 1989) retailing. Across interviews with customers, workers, and owners, their expressed understanding of the local establishment and its clientele was formed in relation to perceptions of Starbucks and its
4 typified customers. As our study unfolded, we became further sensitized to the staging of local coffee shop servicescapes (Sherry 1998) in relation to Starbucks’ trademark décor, ambiance, product offerings, and the boundless enthusiasm of its baristas. In some cases, these stagings are patently emulative, and in others, they are defiantly oppositional, but none are oblivious to Starbucks’ look and feel. As we said, there is no escaping Starbucks. What is the theoretical significance of its dominant position? Starbucks as a Hegemonic Brandscape Brandscape is a flat-out phat, dazzlingly de rigueur, postmodern sobriquet that rolls off the tongues of marketing consultants and cultural critics alike, though carrying very different connotations. The management spin is exemplified by General Mills, which proudly promotes its portfolio of brands as a unified brandscape; that is, a symbolic space that is a familiar and comfortable home for consumers the world over. This notion of the brandscape is more effectively put into practice by so-called experience economy retailers (such as the Disney Store) and themed restaurants (such as ESPN Zone) whose atmospherics enable consumers to inhabit worlds normally experienced only through mass media forums (Pine and Gilmore 1999). For critics of global capitalism (see Frank 2000; Klein 1999), the brandscape refers to an ominous totality of global brands that saturate everyday life and enmesh consumers in a web of desireinducing capitalist imagery. John Sherry (1998, p. 112) advances an anthropological view of the brandscape that places considerably more emphasis on consumers’ active constructions of meaning: The brandscape is a material and symbolic environment that consumers build with marketplace products, images, and messages, that they invest with local meaning, and whose totemic significance largely shapes the adaptation consumers make to the modern world. Brandscaping is one of the ways consumption is actively produced by consumers.
Thus. serving diverse marketing niches. From McDonaldization to Starbuckification The popular critique of Starbucks as an exploitive merchant of global homogenization echoes many of the vituperations that constitute the McDonaldization thesis (Ritzer 1993). we poach the twin ideas that brands have a spatial dimension through which its symbolic meanings are materially represented and that consumers rework brandscape meanings in relation to their lives and personal experiences. we take the idea that a brandscape is a field of ideological relationships that situate consumers’ actions and personalizing interpretations. From the critical perspective. and other trademark features exert a structuring influence on metropolitan coffee shops and the consumption experiences that they afford to their clientele. Our position is that the Starbucks complex of imagery. and political significance to this iconic brand. Ritzer posits that a system of . it is a diffuse and loosely coupled network of coffee shops of various sizes. All inevitably occupy a competitive space that has been mapped by dimensions of Starbucks’ servicescape and the cultural discourses that imbue a heightened degree of social.5 Our conceptualization of the hegemonic brandscape gleans ideas from these diverse definitions. décor. cultural. From Sherry’s consumercentric definition. The Starbucks brandscape extends beyond its corporate basis: rather. From the corporate definition. we borrow the idea that the brandscape is a central locus of consumer-marketer relationships and that the terms of this relationship are shaped by the experiential benefits and symbolic meanings offered by the brand. product offerings. hybrid Euro-American ambiance. Expanding on Max Weber’s writings on bureaucratic rationality. consumption experiences that consumers actively produce are infused by ideological meanings not of their direct making. discourses (of both a promotional and critical variety).
calculability. Frank 2000. and the realpolitik of coffee production and distribution has also become an integral dimension of the coffee shop experience. and seducing unsuspecting consumers with an inauthentic simulation of a real community gathering place. These criticisms further map onto a . Coffee shop political consciousness consumption is also steeped in a variation of the McDonaldization thesis. standardization. imposing a sterile and standardized culture upon local communities. However.. Ritzer (1993) makes it quite clear that his McDonaldization thesis is an exhortation for consumers to resist the dawning McCulture.g. these social critics make a concerted effort to popularize their ideas beyond the ivory tower. p.6 rationalizing processes pioneered by McDonald’s—based on principles of efficiency. O’Neil (1999. and technological control—have become the dominant logic of global capitalism. 53) derides the McDonaldization thesis for being a “McTheory” that markets an amalgam of popular opinions about the calamitous consequences of global capitalism as a formal sociological analysis. and labor conditions. “Coffee is a very political commodity” (Roseberry 1996. In this popular cultural discourse. Accordingly. worker displacement. imposing its rationalizing (and dehumanizing) structure upon nearly every sector of cultural and social life in the United States. social change agenda (e. 774). Furthermore. this compatibility between popular opinion and academic critiques of globalization is very much by design. This critical discourse on globalization has become intertwined with the cultural meanings of coffee. predictability. Klein 1999). p. with the rest of the world following suit at an alarming rate (see Ritzer 1998). Starbucks is demonized for driving out local (and presumably diverse) coffee shops. many critical analyses of globalization’s putative ills are oriented around an activist. Cultural anxieties over the deleterious effects of globalization have heightened consumer consciousness about problems of environmental degradation.
Locander. These tensions reflect that their perceptions and experiences of coffee shop patronage unfold in a dialectically structured socio-cultural space. In recent years. We used a multimethod. The dialectics of Starbucks’ brandscape. multisite data collection strategy. and Pollio 1989) and supplemental data provided through netnography (Kozinets 2002) and field notes from extended observations at several local coffee shops. their narratives become complicated by a series of dialectical tensions—such as between aesthetic authenticity and a commodified fabrication or pretense— and feelings of moral ambivalence. and more strongly. antipathies.7 distinction between the global and the local. however. the global-local dichotomy is quite central to the meanings our participants use to understand their coffee shop loyalties. However. As our participants shifted from general reflections to more specific experiences and perceptions of local coffee shops and Starbucks. dislikes. A profile of our 36 interview participants is provided in Table 1. preferences. Locander. Our primary data consists of phenomenological interviews (Thompson. A team of graduate students who had been trained in phenomenological interviewing (Thompson. In this dialectical zone. Hannerz 1996. and Pollio 1989) by the senior author conducted the initial wave of . with the latter being the morally privileged term. necessitate that consumers undertake considerable interpretive work to align their orienting critique of Starbucks with their experiences of consuming local diversity via coffee shops. a cadre of social theorists has challenged the viability and theoretical utility of this seemingly self-evident distinction between heterogeneous local cultures and the homogenizing forces of globalization (Ger and Belk 1996. local versus global polarities still provides a primary cultural system of meaning for consumers. METHOD The data for this study were collected over a two-year period. Wilk 1995).
Photographs and fieldnotes from the six primary coffee shops sites supplemented our interview texts. bohemian motif. their owners. challenged. interests.8 interviews. A key inflection point in our interpretation concerns the unanticipated salience of Starbucks as cultural category (e. anticorporate. Interviews were clustered around six specific coffee shops that ranged from those that were militantly anti-Starbucks.. We then began to dialectically tack between these emic meanings and the broader discourse surrounding the Starbucks brandscape that circulates in popular culture. provisional understandings are formed. Each interview session began with a set of “grand tour” questions (McCracken 1988) about participants’ personal backgrounds. Eventually we synthesized these emic meanings and etic categories. . participants were told that the study concerned their experiences and perceptions of coffee shops. revised. 1 The names of the local coffee shops. These interviews gathered insights from regular patrons of local coffee shops in one large metropolitan city and one “latte town” (Brooks 2000). to those that evinced a polished aesthetic very much like Starbucks’. employees. and further developed through an iterative movement between individual transcripts and the emerging understanding of the entire set of textual data.1 We interpreted this qualitative data using a hermeneutic approach (Thompson 1997). and thus the interviews also elicited the participants’ perceptions and evaluations of the broader local coffee shop scene.g. In this process. and life goals and then focused upon their experiences of local coffee shops. fashioned around a countercultural. and patrons are pseudonyms. To avoid imposing any local-global chain polarizations. Regular patrons of these primary shops also frequented other coffee shops. D’Andrade 1990) that anchors our participants’ understanding of their experiences of local coffee shops and their patronage motivations.
. hinged upon making social connections with locals and finding local places (e. The second author spent time in this coffee shop observing and interacting with customers and becoming immersed in its ambiance. restaurants. Second. We interviewed a set of consumers who were Starbucks aficionados and for whom Starbucks is a clearly preferred to any local coffee shop alternative. we were particularly interested to see if the same structural dimensions. Thompson and Tambyah (1999) found that the semantic category of the local functioned as a valorized ideal. These interviews were also supplemented by participant observation. All participants were assured that any identifying information would be kept confidential. we collected additional data from two sources.g. neighborhoods) that tourists seldom frequented were viewed as the keys to experiencing the host culture in its authentic form. that organized our interviews with local coffee shop patrons emerged among Starbucks patrons.. For their participants. All of these interviews were conducted in the principal coffee shop and ranged from one to two hours in duration. Aside from gaining comparative insights from pro-Starbucks consumers. we gained the assistance of the owners/managers and placed a notice in the weekly coffee shop newsletter asking for volunteers. The Meaning of the Local in the Starbucks’ Brandscape In their study of entrepreneurial expatriates. we interviewed regulars of a local coffee shop (Revolution House) that seemed to embody many aspects of the anti-Starbucks. “authentically local” ideal described by our participants. the cosmopolitan goal of experiencing the host culture in its authentic form.9 To further challenge and elaborate upon this provisional analysis. These visits also allowed this researcher to develop rapport with the coffee shop owners and employees. shops. as opposed to a commodified spectacle created for the tourist economy. such as aesthetic ambiance. For the Revolution House interviews.
the multifaceted phenomenon of globalization is more accurately characterized as a process of glocalization (Robertson 1995). We also find that the identity constructions of local coffee shop patrons are clustered around two distinctive orientations. A thematically similar rhetorical use of the local is also manifest in our coffee shop interviews. Our participants’ coffee shop preferences function as a form of self-definition anchored by innumerable contrasts to typical Starbucks’ customers. Figure 2 offers a representation of the key relationships identified through our study.10 Reciprocally. Both types of local coffee shop patron employed complex narrative constructions. In this case. we will develop in more detail each aspect of the model. indicated that the forces of globalization had already contaminated their ideal of local authenticity. replete with nuanced distinctions and rationales. to sustain their differing idealizations and meanings of local coffee shops in the face of several salient ambiguities and dialectical tensions. The local always harbors global elements and vice versa. In the following sections. Global structures of common difference/anti-Starbucks discourse From a dialectical perspective. which we term as café flâneurs and oppositional localists. a generative process in which the continual interpenetration among local and global cultural and economic forms creates new hybrid structures. as expat professionals. the symbolic distinction between the local and global enabled these individuals had to assuage nagging concerns that their mere presence in the host country. the maligned homogenizing forces of globalization are metonymically represented through the Starbucks’ brand. We introduce it at this juncture to orient readers to the logic of our findings and mode of presentation. that is. Wilk’s (1995) concept of global structures of common difference offers a means to put this .
professional milieu. which celebrates particular kinds of diversity while submerging. camaraderie. 118). Third-places are conducive to informal conversations. and social connection. Shields 2002). Global structures map local cultures in terms of salient dimensions while allowing considerable variation in their localized manifestations. it has been despatialized and diffused throughout the United States and now the world. Starbucks has standardized and massmarketed the upscale. 1995. These . European-influenced ambiance of the Seattle coffee shop scene—the quintessential latte town (Brooks 2000). The structures of common difference that emanate from Starbucks’ success correspond to the characteristics of third-places detailed by sociologist Ray Oldenburg (1989). globalization is “a hegemony of form not content. While this ambiance emerged from Seattle’s whitecollar. or suppressing others” (Wilk. forging casual friendships and they are spaces where patrons can imbibe a comforting sense of community. with rival copycat chains. Thus. In effect. further propagating a simulated Seattle scene within coffee shop culture.11 dialectical view into analytic practice. Metropolitan coffee shops are organized around several readily discernible global structures of common difference that dialectically link Starbucks to its local competitors. p. deflating. the success of Starbucks is due to its skill at creating a third-place ambiance on a global scale (Schmitt 1999. Global structures of common difference organize and even promote cultural differences along specific dimensions. Though Oldenburg argues that corporate chains are inherently antithetical to genuine third-places. and we find it quite useful for explicating the key structural features of the Starbucks brandscape. such as Seattle’s Best. Third-places are public spaces that exist between the formality and seriousness of the work sphere and the privacy and familial intimacy of the domestic sphere.
Among bobo coffee shops. hip. are standard coffee shop accoutrements. The interior décor should convey a sense of warmth coupled with a distinctive aesthetic flair. often in archaic burlap bags. and community events and hence can stimulate third-place conversations. the aesthetic mix is constituted by light jazz. These edifying reading materials forge a symbolic connection to the broader worlds of art. some effected an adamantly countercultural bohemian stance via risqué art. These global structures of common difference can accommodate a wide range of implementations. furnishings exuding a seemingly unplanned. images of indigenous coffee farmers. small independent) labels of the techno.e.e. Sherry 1995). politics. and tasteful art—black and white stills. or alt-country variety. and a staff brandishing tattoos. background music that can be classified as either sophisticated (in the high culture sense). a selection of arts-oriented media and newspapers. and classical landscapes—perhaps spiced with some abstract impressionism.. Other coffee shops appealed to an upscale new class sensibility that Brooks (2000) has christened as boboism (i. avant hair styles. and a limited but hedonically rich menu featuring oversized gourmet muffins. In terms of cultural content (and the dramaturgy of the staff). secondhand shop aura. bobo coffee shops . body piercing. musical selections from hip indie (i.12 include prominent displays of visual art. including prestigious dailies such as the New York Times. Meanings of cosmopolitan worldliness (as well as an appeal to peasant chic) are reinforced via signifiers of the international coffee trade—such as maps showing the world’s different coffee growing areas. and bulk coffee displays. and epicurean sandwiches. foccacias. As a result. oversized cookies. a postmodern blend of bourgeois and bohemian values). Coffee shops have also been historically linked to intellectual engagement and cultural enrichment (Oldenburg 1989. and other subversive sartorial statements. or in some way countercultural but certainly not Top 40 mainstream. bagels. In our sample of coffee shops. hardcore.
Accordingly. and these commonalities quickly enable their patrons to assess the similarities and most importantly the differences between their preferred local shop and Starbucks. displays of aesthetic refinement take clear precedence over any interests in defying mainstream sensibilities. The anti-Starbucks discourse. Charbucks) (see Kozinets 2002) and for debasing the espresso experience. the point is that the anti-Starbucks discourse has become as much a . and hedonic threads. Starbucks is also widely assailed on websites devoted to coffee connoisseurship for over roasting its beans (e. Yet. For our analytic purposes. Rather. However. thereby linking the brand to consumer anxieties over genetically modified foods and giving rise to yet another culture jamming play on the brand name: Frankenbucks. In recent years. Starbucks critics dismiss these changes as cynical marketing ploys that are relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of Starbucks’ global operations. Starbucks has also come under fire for using rBGH modified milk products. Starbucks’ stratospheric growth and market dominance has also given rise to a countervailing discourse that now permeates coffee shop culture. the issue is not the relative merits of these critical charges or corporate rebuttals.g.13 more closely resemble the Starbucks chain than the countercultural alternatives. the environment. The antiStarbucks discourse is a multi-faceted one having cultural. material. offering limited selections of fair trade coffees and organic milk in some markets. and the economic standing of coffee growers. The cultural thread berates this brand for displacing the diversity of authentic coffee shops with a soul-numbing aesthetic homogeneity and sanitized versions of the creative arts. bobo-ish and countercultural coffee shops operate along the same structural dimensions. The material critique associates Starbucks’ corporate practices with a nexus of deleterious effects on the local coffee trade. Starbucks invests considerable marketing effort toward countering these charges and has even altered its product line..
Or you feel like. it functions as a collectively shared narrative that infuses the meanings through which they understand their experiences of local coffee shop consumption. the urban flâneur is self- . sensory-saturated world of the large metropolis. schedules. you really could The image of the urban flâneur or stroller has been intimately linked to the experiences of metropolitan life ever since 19th century writer Charles Baudelaire’s reflections on the Parisian urban landscape (see Featherstone 1991). I mean. some of the stories. the urban flâneur strolls the city. you could write a story. with little regard for time. leisurely taking in its cacophony of sights and sounds for the pleasure they offer rather than hurrying to a destination or even engaging in the purposive activity of shopping. they are quite attuned to the anti-Starbucks discourse. The urban flâneur thrives on the perpetual motion of the crowd and the continual buzz of conversations but he/she does so in a voyeuristic manner. preferring to interpret their favorite local shops as unique. You know. And.14 part of coffee shop culture as an espresso served in a demitasse with biscotti on the side. Whereas most of our participants are not explicitly aware of the global structures of common difference that are intrinsic to the staging of a coffee shop. Importantly. what did you expect. hey. I’ll read the papers and just kind of watch people. The sad stories. like people dying and people feeling bad. you just feel so bad. You know. You’re not trying to listen but you can’t help it. You deserve to be fired. you kind of deserved it. or instrumental outcomes (Benjamin 1973). Defying dominant modernist mandates for the productive and efficient use of time. observing rather than directly participating in the unfolding drama of the street. Café Flâneurs/The Buzz Scott: I don’t really talk to too many people when I’m here. The urban flâneur (and flâneuse) is a pleasure seeker who becomes immersed in the hyperkinetic. or whatever. you didn’t show up for work and you got caught smoking pot the day you came back.
such as being a writer or a poet. viewing themselves more as an appreciative audience than participants. This chemical backdrop contributes to the overall ambiance of local coffee shops and our participants’ experiences of being energized and creatively inspired by these third-places. Our emic theme—the buzz—profiles a range of meanings that are sought through café flâneurship. and visual art. which are analytically distinguishable but in practice are intertwined and mutually supportive. Many of our participants refer to the stimulating effects of caffeine. The buzz theme is constituted by two experiential dimensions. and eavesdropping on conversations.15 consciously taking up an idealized identity position that is understood as being distinct from others in the crowd. The social buzz refers to the energy and entertainment that our participants gain from being in this dynamic public space. Coffee also . that they feel stands apart from their work-a-day and family lives and that is greatly facilitated by the buzz of local coffee shops. Several of our café flâneurs are engaging in an explicit form of identity play. The aesthetic buzz refers to the feeling of creative inspiration that café flâneurs gain from being in a social space possessing a stimulating and interesting décor. observing others. café flâneurs revel in the social spectacle of the coffee shop crowd. Through the café flâneur orientation. Third-places typically involve the consumption of social lubricants such as beer. spirits. local coffee shop patrons also create a space where they can linger in the moment. or coffee (Oldenburg 1989). at least temporarily suspending the press to squeeze more productivity out of their day. Rather than seeking an experience of communal solidarity. The buzz also has a material foundation that needs to be acknowledged. music. and where they can act upon the paradoxical consumer desire to be out-in-public while retaining a detached anonymity.
He is the owner of a small bookstore. five years ago. despite the convenience and cost savings offered by home brewing: I: Patrick: Do you make coffee at home? No. absolutely. The social aspect of the buzz is nicely illustrated in the following quote from Patrick who like many of our participants. you know. Most striking for Patrick had been the sense of being in a place where complete strangers from different cultural worlds can strike up a conversation: I: Do you have a favorite café? Patrick: Yeah. public spaces where coffee is the de facto sacramental beverage can be experienced as places to relax and to become immersed in a dynamic and enlivening social world.16 contributes to this positive feeling in a more symbolic manner. coffee carries cultural meanings that sacralize these third-places. Coffee is understood both as an “anodyne and a stimulant” (Sherry 1995. The draw for me is the people there. Never. seldom makes coffee at home. I drink coffee because I want to be out among people. That’s the whole f*ckin’ point. you know. I meet people. hence. ask them to go out to the movies with me. p. Isn’t that odd? I don’t even own a coffee machine. Because. As discussed by Sherry (1998). unbelievable café. I gave it away the day she left [after a visit]. four. which has been since Berlin was founded the sort of the main . 358) and. Yeah. start hitting on people or. contact with other people. the aesthetic. the social. that’s the whole thing. Patrick’s sense of the social has been heavily shaped by his tenure as an exchange student in Germany. It’s on the Friedrich Strasse. In this sense. rendering these establishments as distinct from the quotidian flow of everyday. Patrick’s concept of being “lonely” requires some explication. Like my mom bought me an espresso machine three. and the symbolic. It’s not like I go into a cafè and like. Café Einstein in Berlin. I mean. his life is infused by a variety of social relationships. I don’t even remember. But it’s a way of communicating with someone when you’re lonely. the buzz afforded by local coffee shops emerges from this confluence of the physiological. However. In sum. I don’t drink coffee. married with two young children.
And they had the blinds. it was a chain. Like our other participants.. the Daily Telegraph. although by then Berlin had started to get Starbucks. They had gorgeous pictures.e. I’ll read Le Monde. basically all glass on two sides. with a handlebar mustache and a shaved head. photographs really and you go in. But it also had a fantastic ambiance. and when I want to practice on my French. you know. local coffee shops are constructed as forums for the expression of individuality and alternative (i. It had a really interesting clientele. you know. looking like he could be in a pickelhaube.. noncorporate and nonsuburban) sensibilities: . I got chatted up one day by an Austrian businessman. And they had great coffee drinks. It had these. like a local German chain the opposite direction from Einstein. It’s a beautiful street with these huge sycamore trees and the wide boulevard style. heavy slatted blinds that sort of allowed the sunlight to filter in. Do you know what a pickelhaube is? One of those helmets with the little points on it. well. the huge. But anyway. “Holzfranz” [a newspaper from Holland]. In diametric contrast.. a Viennese guy is sitting here and drinking his coffee. It wasn’t Starbucks. right? You know. relatively banal cultural space that caters to an equally bland corporate clientele.17 pedestrian street. the reason why I say it was the absolute best café is that it was very great in a lot of ways. El Pais [a Spanish newspaper] or. Why read English when you’ve got all these other choices on the wall… And it had a really mixed clientele. So. You get the tourists who are there because it’s the Friedrich Strasse. When commenting on his least favorite German coffee shops. it was kind of a nondescript. or if I want to do the German. Patrick views distinctiveness as the defining trait of a good coffee shop. They made a really good cup of coffee. participating in the buzz of the local coffee shop offers a means to simulate this by gone experience of cosmopolitan worldliness that he feels is lacking in his everyday routine ordered by the demands of parenthood and running a small business. too. Patrick identifies a “nondescript” chain that evokes an association with Starbucks: Patrick: God. I’ll come in here and read the Dutch newspapers. you get the service by these fantastic Germans. Our café flâneurs view Starbucks as a conservative. I mean. For Patrick. um. That’s the one thing I never wanted to do. for example. But. it was a local. you know? Everything except the English newspaper. He was from Vienna. when I want to read Dutch. this is great. but you also get. And there were papers hanging on the walls from just about every language.
visiting some friends in San Francisco. yeah. just because I’m not like “corporate Starbucks world. It’s like Eureka Joe’s is more for the alternative-minded person living on the East Side. If I’m staying somewhere for a while. kind of stringy. you’re comfortable with Starbucks. it’s comforting to somebody who lives in the suburbs. And what I mean by that is I once worked in a very corporate. At times. just sitting back. Java Jive is very different. But in a place like [city name]. In discussing their preferences for local coffee shops.” like for a week. It’s kind of mass. There was some guy. you know. I found a Starbucks in Auckland and that was the place. It’s very. Rather. I prefer a more open casual environment. And I did not like it. he would sit there every day. you know. As opposed to Starbucks. Café flâneurs view local coffee shops as offering a more distinctive ambiance and hence as providing a more engaging and stimulating buzz. They had some regulars. you know. I’ll try to look for the other places. their aesthetic censures of Starbucks are often tempered by an appreciation for Starbucks’ high level of service quality and the comfort offered by its familiar settings: Carie: I’m not a Starbucks fan. just hanging out. hedonic. I was in New Zealand at Christmastime and. “What is he doing? He’s got to be on unemployed!” He was totally loving life. you know. and coffees. It’s a special place that way. We would go there and they were there. Java Jive is quirky. Magic . It’s got an artsy sort of thing going. There are lots of different people that hang out there. There was a coffee shop that was directly across the street from my house that I was staying at. just having his coffee. It very much caters to the population around here.” Although I have like. They served Guinness beer and different sandwiches. So I look at Starbucks being corporate and I don’t like that. Long blonde hair. I don’t feel like I can be myself there.18 Frank: Well. My friend and I we’re like this “guy is there again. you know. sitting there. It was a real café. It feels stiff. their preferences hinge upon voyeuristic. It’s still the same corporate kind of cookie-cutter type of place. three other guys. The clientele is very funky. it doesn’t feel comfortable. café flâneurs seldom invoke the politics of consumption rationales that predominate among oppositional localists. because it was like him and his buddies. a place like this is unique which I like. Yet. A place like this has more personality. you know. and identity play considerations: Laura: I try to avoid Starbucks. and it was called Simple Pleasures. Cooper: I consider myself a corporate misfit. He was so funny. You have different people who work there. very professional setting. We enjoyed it. you know. you have. More because it was kind of a more comfortable setting. with his shirt open usually. I can do Java Jive. I don’t see the same uniqueness. Magic Bean and Java Jive that I love.
g. So a coffee shop kind of gives me that.. kind of umm. I don’t think I am that bold. Starbucks is a good place to have a casual business meeting). And I find myself up at 6:30 in the morning and Starbucks opens on the same street at 6:30 so I have my first cup at Starbucks waiting for Eureka Joe to open and then I’ll have my second cup at Eureka Joe. place where I can kind of get away from it all. you might as well be in Chicago. It’s like the difference between going to McDonald’s or this place called George Webb’s that . A funny situation is that Eureka Joe opens up at 7 o’clock in the morning. yeah. Starbucks is nice. Negotiating Moral Ambivalence. café flâneurs are less rigid in their patronage decisions and periodically opt for Starbucks owing to convenience or social considerations (e. [laugh] I finish it off. I mean. you might as well be in New York. when you see a Starbucks like in Auckland. you don’t have the corporate world behind Magic Bean and how big they [Starbucks] are. The coffee I think kind of stimulates me to think. but as an early riser. For Brian. This symbolic meaning is evident in the following excerpt. you’re going. it gives me the jitters too but it helps stimulates my creative processes. Whereas oppositional localists express a strident antipathy toward the idea of frequenting Starbucks. So. it’s so strong. Brian uses the artsy countercultural ambiance (and strong coffee) of his favorite coffee shop as a creative impetus. what are they doing here? But it looks exactly the same. I have a couple of journals I’m working on and a book on like the relationship between money and spirituality. I: Do you bring the Starbucks cup into Eureka Joe? Brian: No. I do think they do an amazing job of having great quality for as big as they are. Rockford. you know. you know. it’s so intense that I need a little break and I’ll do like. Starbucks. he also frequents Starbucks as a prelude to his writing pursuits: Brian: I’ve started this habit of kind of going there [Eureka Joe] just to write. it’s kind of cool but it doesn’t have the same feeling of being here in the mornings. or wherever. the movement between Starbucks and a preferred local coffee shop symbolizes a shift between his normal work-a-day life and a much less familiar bohemian world where he feels like a writer. I: How would you compare Magic Bean to Starbucks? Carie: Obviously. I mean. So a lot of time this place is like a creative place for me to do some writing over a cup of coffee. Java Jive for a little bit of a pace changer. A lot of times I find myself at home saying “I can’t write” here.19 Bean’s coffee [her primary coffee shop].
It’s not necessary that I feel that strongly but it’s that my friends feel that strongly. George Webb is like. all sorts of different people I guess and that intrigues me. I guess it’s comfortable in a way because everyone is anonymous. you know. suburban and white. So I go there anyway and hope that nobody sees me walking out of there who will think less of me for being there. However. It’s peer pressure for not going to Starbucks to the point that if I want to go to Starbucks and carry something out. I don’t personally feel that I can’t frequent Starbucks based not on my own beliefs. they do realize that Starbucks is commonly vilified as the paragon of globalization’s worst excesses and that frequenting Starbucks is a taboo practice within many quarters of the local coffee shop culture. you’ll meet a real slice of society that way and McDonald’s will be very homogenized kind of feeling to it. as evinced by Brian’s reservations about walking into Eureka Joe with a Starbucks’ cup. For a long time I wouldn’t go to Starbucks because in my circle of friends it’s not socially acceptable to go to Starbucks because it is just a big corporate and that it destroys all the local coffee shops. I know that’s ridiculous. They do not divide the world into stark Manichean terms. That’s why I don’t like going to Starbucks. For a long time. It reminds me too much about how where I grew up. In the case of Sandra. Café flâneurs also have friends and acquaintances who do regard Starbucks as a global Goliath. which is. George Webb. All of our café flâneurs express some variation on the idea that Starbucks is a comfortable place whose primary shortcomings are dullness and uniformity. . A biker could come or. where Starbucks represents a diabolical force and where local coffee shops symbolize all that is noble and good. I knew my dad came to visit he would be comfortable at Starbucks. you can meet just about anybody there. coupled with social pressure to boycott the chain. I don’t know. her dispassionate comprehension of the anti-Starbucks discourse. leads to a half-hearted renunciation of Starbucks even though she surreptitiously frequents this chain: Sandra: The shop I feel most connected to probably will be Java Jive and a lot of it has to do with just the fact that it is not a big chain like the Starbucks. So I guess I would never be attached to Starbucks because it is corporate. There is nothing that’s special or charming about it as far as I am concerned. There’s a Starbucks that’s right by my house. so I took him in there.20 serves burgers and fries. I will bring my own cup so I can walk around without having a Starbucks cup in my hand in public. So. I didn’t go because my boyfriend is really opposed to Starbucks but it’s so convenient and so comfortable.
they interpret Starbucks’ marketplace dominance as a consequence of its customer service acumen. café flâneurs do not view local coffee shops and Starbucks as morally equivalent alternatives. Starbucks is squarely situated in the realm of profitseeking economics and savvy marketing. and quality products rather than predatory practices. the perceived lack of distinctive charm once again emerges as Starbucks’ Achilles heel. Café flâneurs pay little heed to these indictments because their personal politics are more consistent with a neo-liberal model of market competition. this symbolic boundary is ultimately justified on aesthetic rather than political economy grounds. comfortable atmosphere. Attachment rather than patronage is where she draws the moral line. The following reflection from Patrick exemplifies this emphasis on authenticity. Her driving consideration is sensitivity about the perceptions of others who do make such moral ascriptions. Yet. Sandra has an intellectual awareness of the anti-Starbucks discourse. Moreover. Sandra voices one of the most damning beliefs from the anti-Starbucks discourse – it destroys all the local coffee shops – and then immediately notes that she does not feel very strongly about it. Much of the anti-Starbucks discourse concerns backstage activities related to competitive practices. In diametric contrast to his idealized . they assume that Starbucks’ profit goals are balanced by concerns for the environment and its workforce. she may go to Starbucks but it will never be a favorite establishment. they tend to ascribe a caring capitalist good intent to Starbucks’ management. Much like our other café flâneurs. and a gamut of labor issues. However. In contrast.21 Strikingly. environmental effects. rather than political economy concerns. but she has little emotional investment in these beliefs and she does not imbue any overriding moral significance to her choice of coffee shops. that is. In their narratives. they place local coffee shops in the sacralized realms of authentic artistic expression and the gift economy. relationships to coffee growers. Accordingly.
Like the ambiance there is GRAPHIC DESIGN! It’s like. Another way that café flâneurs privilege local coffee shops over Starbucks is a labor-oflove attribution. or Los Angeles. café flâneurs also view Starbucks’ contrived identity and standardized layout as a traditionless. you know. I think Tracy does an incredible thing. then. if it’s the flow of how you move from the coffee pot. This endearing anthropomorphism aside. That’s what their [Starbucks] décor is. corporate fabrication of an authentic coffee shop devoid of artistic merit: Patrick: Starbucks is almost so calculated as to be unappealing. which I think is great. Their narratives emphasize that the owners of their preferred coffee shop are motivated by higher ideals and goals than profit considerations: Carie: Here [Magic Bean] it’s comfortable. which he sees as expressing tradition and the artistic whims of its owners. You know that it’s one design team centered in San Francisco. the furniture all was kind of curvy and brightly colored? And there was like zig-zaggy polka-dots and things like that. ‘90s’.22 German cafe. decadence in art is when craftsmanship replaces creativity. Some major metropolitan area design team has come in and “okay. I don’t know if its. so I’ll . that just doesn’t work for me. humanize Starbucks. they construct it in terms akin to a geeky friend who is self-consciously trying to act sophisticated in hopes of garnering social approval. I’d rather have tradition. So many places you buy a cup of coffee. café flâneurs. In contrast. And that’s exactly what’s happened at Starbucks. here’s how we’re going to design the café of the. you know. it’s really calculated. bottomless cup. profit-driven marketing construction that will change whenever customer preferences shift. sort of an all-you-can-drink. Whereas oppositional localists vilify Starbucks as a corporate colossus seeking world domination. I like this place because you can pour your own coffee. punch in the numbers and get curvy furniture and a broad palette of pleasing pastels. Remember the movie Beetlejuice? Remember the sets of that. in a rather odd way. New York. Starbucks’ aesthetic is viewed as a highly calculated. There’s a theory. That’s the difference between art and graphic design. and I like really hot coffee.” right? I’m sorry. where like. the authentic ambiances of local coffee shops are deemed to express the aesthetic tastes of their owners and the distinctive character of the neighborhood they serve. I mean.
an expensive endeavor.e. The oppositional brand is perceived to be a threat to the community and an enemy to be fought at every turn. I’ll fill it up halfway and do like a couple half cups. Oppositional localists clearly construct Starbucks as threat and foe and they are rhetorically armed by the anti-Starbucks discourse. its servicescape would still lack a necessary ingredient: a visible proprietor who seems to be vesting him or herself in the shop and who leaves a personal mark on its aesthetic and social ambiance. you know. Although each of our oppositional localists has a favorite shop. However. café flâneurs interpret the most beloved aspects of their favorite local coffee shops as a gift from the owner(s). great cup of coffee. so it’s really hot. Muniz and O’Guinn (2002) discuss the role oppositional brand loyalty plays in cementing feelings of similarity and solidarity (i. Historically. If you’re paying each time. While Starbucks could undertake this atavistic practice.. are coming in and positioning themselves in the market so that little people can’t get a foothold.23 typically start with a cup like this. . “friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks. I think it’s about serving a really—she really wants to serve a good cup of coffee—a really fresh. Their feelings of customer loyalty are grounded in the reciprocal obligations of the gift economy.” I like that because supporting businesses like this is essential. local brand). like Starbucks. that’s like. oppositional localists espouse a generalized support for local coffee shops rather than just a specific establishment (i. That’s why I support places like this. they express a social and political alliance with patrons of other local coffee shops. I’m not sure Tina (the owner) will get rich doing that.. these big giants. Sherry 1995). you know. the bottomless cup of coffee has been a kind of gift that proprietors of thirdplace establishments offer to their clientele (Oldenburg 1989. and it goes much larger than just Revolution House. And teach people about good beans. As illustrated by Carie’s passage. Like now that the coffee culture took off like ten or fifteen years ago.e. but I don’t think it’s about getting rich. Oppositional Localists/Communal Grounds Kate: I’m sure you’ve seen the bumpersticker. consciousness of kind) among members of a brand community.
or colonizing forces. But if I am in a different community. I mean. coming soon Starbucks.24 In keeping with the anti-Starbucks discourse. I prefer coffee shops like this. cancers. It’s just that convenience. I won’t say. The “wall-to-wall Starbucks” narrative is quite prevalent among oppositional localists. Several of our oppositional localists (many of whom view coffee as a life necessity) describe situations where they were traveling and had little practical choice but to frequent a Starbucks. Then he leaves and you see the whole mall from the inside. they rail against the lack of convenient local choices (presumably due to Starbucks’ rapacious market expansion) and express disdain toward Starbucks’ ambiance: Laura: You’re going to run into definitely an element of individuals who are avoiding it [Starbucks] and they’re here because they like to support local businesses and I agree. especially in Chicago. I’ll go. supporting local businesses. it’s hard to find local businesses sometimes. here at home. no. I refuse. like I feel. Starbucks is awful. I think when I’m traveling. but in a way it’s true. they’re right there. It’s funny.” But locally. Whereas café flâneurs view Starbucks marketplace ubiquity as a testament to its wellearned popularity. it’s kind of hard. a metaphor that is further elaborated through bleak images of plagues. I mean. “no. I: So. because Starbucks are pervasive and they’re everywhere. There’s Caribou. Rather than viewing Starbucks as a comfortable old standby. and they’re kind of like at all these convenient places that you find yourself. oppositional localists see Starbucks as a grave threat to the very existence of a diverse local coffee shop culture: Debbie: Like. Starbucks. There is even a Simpsons’ episode where Bart Simpson walks into the mall. no. and I really need something right away. I: Do you go to Starbucks? Debbie: Oh. and then you see a Starbucks and you see next door. how do you feel when you have to go there? . Like in the airports or if you get off a subway. there is practically one on every corner. no. I try to do my part. oppositional localists take it as a galling affirmation that local competitors have been crowded out. So. I mean. and it’s wall-to-wall Starbucks. I don’t go there. I don’t like those chain coffee shops. which is the same kind of thing. in the manner of café flâneurs. our theory was the reason we weren’t able to find a really good coffee shop there is because a Starbucks is on almost every corner.
I’m like. Get a coffee. a good couch. because I was out in New York. I just need a coffee. like what is that?” Is it truly a name or just some thing that the branding guru made up because it sounds cool and Italian? Not only do oppositional loyalists intellectually comprehend the anti-Starbucks discourse. You know. social. There was a Starbucks close by. too. you know. but I saw Starbucks. the people who work there are just like working everywhere else. And another person will say I’d like to see a little fireplace. I got to go to Starbucks. and they can be really long. they also experience this global chain as a personal affront to their aesthetic. But. The counter person just kept calling out an order. so I went in. it’s not like there are bad people who work there. someone had an order up. They’re doing marketing research. “okay. Fine. Sit down. a week or so ago. man. I’ve been there [Starbucks]. well.” And I think that’s why I feel so upset because it’s just like my necessities are so basic.” I: How did you feel about going there? Kate: Well. I was looking for coffee because I had a ten-hour drive ahead of me and it was the only place I saw. “oh. and it also illustrates a key social typology shared by oppositional loyalists. Their preferences for local coffee shops are anchored by a steadfast conviction that they possess an understanding about the dark side of transnational corporations that is lacking among the general population and most particularly the typical Starbucks customer: Kate: I mean. “oh. and it was “double mocha caramel macchiato! double mocha caramel macchiato!” and she just kept saying it. You know I had no idea where there would be a coffee shop. So. And one woman will say I like a couch. . an all-around bad experience. I needed a place to go for two hours to sit and work before I had another meeting at this conference. I went in. They probably interviewed a thousand people. and they gave me water. I’m not from Boston. I didn’t really know where to go. it was the closest thing. They’re just like these crazy made-up names. and it was just like a whole. They were very polite.25 Laura: I feel like. The following passage from Kate gives voice to this adversarial experience. I walk in and get this feeling that this is how they think people want a coffee shop to be. I just need a place to rest and drink my coffee for an hour. When patronizing a Starbucks. I mean. I thought “double mocha caramel macchiato. they feel exploited by a Machiavellian marketing machine. actually. I feel like I’m in an experiment. I just need some caffeine. and political values. Like I did just go to Starbucks. My annoyance came to a head when I was in Boston. I don’t like these ridiculous names of coffees.” Like. I just need this.
like they’re an older professional crowd. They’re not so concerned socially or politically. but I have a feeling the average Starbucks customer is more like in their thirties. Their goal isn’t necessarily financial. Rather. They do good product. They want to be able to. Their communal experiences have two key social foundations. small-is-beautiful .26 they put together this idea of a universally accepted. I think that may be the number one appeal. local coffee shops are seen as fulfilling a realpolitik agenda by enacting ideals of living wages. Whereas café flâneurs experience coffee shops in a highly individuated manner. including their bakery. Like café flâneurs. you know. But it’s that sense of social activism about these two people in particular that I love. Evil had his headquarters up in a Starbucks building in Seattle. They make coffee very well. All their food is vegan. They’re both musicians and have a band… They do music shows on the weekends. oppositional localists do not symbolically place their preferred coffee shops in the gift economy. people who are politically active and committed to social change. They’re very active about doing independent art shows and promoting independent artists. Oppositional localists are socially linked by their sense of sharing common political cause and a collective vision of an enlightened or progressive political economy. much better than most jobs of this sort would pay. I think that’s the community they’re trying to build around. However. afford their house payments and to eat. I don’t know if you saw the Austin Powers movie…I think Dr. and they promote the most independent artists you can imagine and folk singers. oppositional localists construct their preferred coffee shops as a locus of communal relationships. Accordingly. They have great food. They do it very well. they portray the support of local coffee shops as an activist endeavor: Bob: I think the main feature that appeals to me is that they [owners] are trying to build a sense of community here. Communal Grounds. The first is foreshadowed by Kate’s preceding comment. Like they’re not really concerned about supporting a big corporation. oppositional localists imbue their preferred local coffee shops with a nexus of social and political values they feel challenge prevailing corporate power structures. They’re very politically active. Through this radical political sensibility. oppositional localists celebrate the proprietors of local coffee shops for pursuing higher ideals rather than profits. maybe. but they pay their employees very well. every Friday and Saturday.
A recurrent phrase among oppositional localists is that their preferred coffee shops are open to diversity. such as the AIDS support network. fashion mores. In the case of Bob’s preferred coffee shop (Revolution House). Other coffee shops with a strong following among oppositional localists do not exude such an overtly political milieu. Revolution House provides a social space that fully embodies the anti-Starbucks discourse. embodying a social. and aesthetic ethos that is militantly anticorporate. tolerance of lifestyle diversity. hit the right anti-Starbucks notes by offering fair trade coffees. there is a clear consensus that this establishment is the paragon of local coffee shops. Revolution House is perceived to be the antithesis of Starbucks. However. and supporting alternative local media and fundraising activities for activists groups. however.27 anti-corporate activism. Bob’s reference to vegan food also highlights that the owners of Revolution House are quite involved in food politics and animal rights movements. Whether manifested in a high profile or more subtle fashion. and standards of aesthetic taste. From its second-hand décor to its leftist political posters to its Greenpeace fliers to its steady stream of politically-oriented folk singers and poets. this left of the dial political sensibility—which invokes the specter of 1960s radicalism—is closely aligned with the social positioning of these local coffee shops as countercultural havens. Finally. ecological sustainability. in almost every single aspect of its operation. Among those in our sample who are familiar with Revolution House. this sense of diversity is defined through a diametric contrast to middle-class lifestyle norms. They do. For individuals who often feel out-of-place in mainstream social settings. political. providing a venue for local artists. This ideal standing reflects that. the countercultural ambiance of bohemian coffee shops . there is a definite political edge to the work of the artists and musicians who are featured. and by supporting independent artists.
They fixed it up real fancy. yeah. countercultural) clientele can be readily seen in the reflections of both café flâneurs and oppositional localists. a friend brought me here. A lot of times. It’s just like I love it here. It’s a really nice place to come and just like meet your friends and meet people from right around here. its owners. I really loved it here. everything from the color of the wall and the paintings to all the murals by the [outside] door.28 communicates an acceptance of alternative lifestyles. It feels like an extension of my living room. When I was sixteen. It was so fascinating. “oh. And the people that worked here. It’s kind of nice. So. this is a cool coffee shop. it really is a wonderful atmosphere. You don’t have to have a ton of money to go to see a good show. But here it always seemed like that was possible. See these lamps? I love how they always are open to like weird new art. it’s the atmosphere. But Java Jive doesn’t have as . the owners. I knew I was different. I was just like. It just seemed colder for some reason. They’re so open to a diversity of music and experimentalism and originality. it’s local music. and I like that. I mean. Maybe there were structural things and they figured they might as well try to clean it up while they were at it. first of all. and diverse (e. art. well. I loved it. Like the street musicians and people that are regulars.” So. too. Oppositional localists are quite sensitive to and critical toward aesthetic changes in their favorite coffee shops that seem to be moving in the direction of a Starbuckified ambiance: Rebecca: I don’t like Java Jive after they rehabbed it. When they did that. These people accept diversity. and customer community: Rose: I love this place [Revolution House]. I just felt so at home knowing that. I don’t know. This place [Revolution House] is actually pretty similar to Java Jive. it lost some of its charm. are so cool. too.g. to make it look nicer inside. Ken and Gina. You can’t always go to a business establishment and have like a philosophical conversation with the person working there. I’m gay. I like the art here. A strong preference for unconventional décors. The people that they hire are so friendly overall. These experiences of being at home in the company of kindred spirits can generate a powerful emotional resonance and sense of devout loyalty to the shop. Whereas the former group read this countercultural milieu as a spectacle to be enjoyed. with pretty political leanings as well. I come to the music shows on Fridays and Saturdays. the people that work behind the counter and the relation that they have with the customers. It’s just really comfortable. oppositional localists see it as a setting that reflects the particular social views and political persuasions that link together a diverse community of alternative minded individuals. A lot of weird people go into Java Jive.. I think there are a lot of artists that come here that are really conscientious about their work. They play good music. I just think they tried to fix it up to compete with Starbucks.
I think that has been the problem there. its support of politically minded local artists. They won’t hire anyone with visible tattoos or body piercings. which is one reason why I don’t like it that much. using grande or whatever instead of small. anytime a business grows too much. That’s what makes it hard.2 A kind of social and moral discounting ensues when local coffee shops take on the aesthetic trappings of Starbucks. They grew too much. oppositional localists still regard it as a legitimate local coffee shop owing to its use of fair trade coffees. which I definitely don’t see in the independent stores here. too. and they started focusing on how they did it. You must do it this way. The owners modeled their shop on Starbucks. Other policy changes also accompanied this new look. It seems like it is Java Jive undertook this remodeling in direct response to the opening of a nearby Starbucks and an ensuing loss of business. Everybody has to look a certain way to work there. Negotiating Moral Ambivalences. the staff was directed to abandon a long tradition of giving free coffee to several neighborhood eccentrics. and decorated with mix n’ match furnishings became bright. you know. and sponsorship of poetry slams and open-mike evenings. well. cluttered. A space that had been dimly lit. That’s the kind of corporate culture that I think is dehumanizing the workers. It’s very silly to me. call the drink and repeat it back. open. They stopped focusing on the quality of their product. It’s more sterile. and it is always kept very clean and professional. The preceding quotes lamenting Java Jive’s postrenovation coldness and sterility speak to a moral hierarchy that exists among oppositional loyalists. In contrast. While Java Jive may have sacrificed some of its bohemian appeal. All the chairs and tables are the same. For example. countercultural style of its staff. and they started using a Starbucks-like jargon to call out drinks back and forth to people. oriented around similar corporate values: Bob: Anchors Away has very rigid policies within regards to employees. another popular and quite successful local coffee shop chain is a target of unqualified opprobrium because it is deemed to be a Starbucks clone. and tastefully furnished in a European style.29 warm of an atmosphere. 2 . It’s kind of sterile in there. The owner sought to attract a broader swath of customers by upscaling his shop. and large. the funky. Rebecca: I don’t go to Anchors Away. including one who liked to wander the store and strike up exceedingly elliptical conversations with customers. medium. And to make your employees adhere to this rigid code of. because you do see some people that look like small independent locals but. They were doing it in a very rigid manner.
The dehumanizing standardization assailed by Bob can also be read as a means of quality control that benefits customers and reduces workers’ stress during rush periods. Our observations and conversations with Anchors Away’s employees suggest a congenial and fairly loose atmosphere. I don’t know. and coffee. Also. perhaps even more than other celebrated local coffee shops. you know. Their critical perceptions are not without merit. something along those lines. This local chain does in fact cater to a professional crowd. on the other hand. ever make a sandwich board out of some review that USA Today gave them. funnels profits back into the community through its growthoriented business strategy. the moral failing of Anchors Away is that it seems to endorse corporate values. For oppositional localists (particularly those supporting Revolution House). Its wage scale is very comparable to other local coffee shops and it offers a better benefit package than other locals. it was some compliment from USA Today. this same chain also offers a wide selection of organic and fair trade coffees. mesh with very well. and it does place a much higher emphasis on efficiency and standardization of service than the more bohemian coffee shops. and. I was walking past there a week or two ago. such as Anchors Away. warmth. That doesn’t make it a good coffee shop to me. except for high traffic periods where their attention becomes very focused on the job. and you just don’t go around running off your tongue that USA Today says you’re great. from its employee policies to its steady expansion in the local market to its public display of USA Today accolades. like it said a great place for friends. supports a number of community events. Among those in our sample who are not fans of Revolution House. which is just not a crowd that I really. Indeed. and they had this sign outside their door that said USA Today. USA Today is like this big corporate newspaper. Yet.30 geared more toward the business-type people. But the thing is that all of the coffee shops that I want to patronize would never. its employees do tend toward a clean-cut look with body piercings and tattoos seldom seen. their . even the most ardent supporters of Revolution House acknowledge that they can get better coffee at other places. its décor does present a conservative ambiance.
Though Revolution House’s customers are quite astute at deconstructing the artifice of Starbucks’ design and critique other locals (be it Anchors Away or Java Jive) for emulating its corporate look. You’re making a certain statement here about what your café is. the underlying structures of common difference that dialectically position local coffee shops in the Starbucks’ brandscape also give rise to moral ambiguities and uncertainties. no. You just simply have your own. one could argue that its avowedly anti-corporate. bohemian ambiance is no less calculated than the explicitly Starbuckified motif of Anchors Away and that Revolution House employees are also screened by informal criteria necessitated by the shop’s countercultural posturing. Our pro-Starbucks participants did comment on the intentionally second-hand look of local coffee shops. unplanned expression of the owners’ (and community’s) aesthetic tastes. an affectation they found completely unappealing. and high variation in food and coffee quality. none question the authenticity of Revolution House’s décor. of course not. placing these establishments on an equal moral/aesthetic plane with Starbucks: a rhetorical move made possible by the fact that the local coffee shops and Starbucks inhabit a common dialectical space organized along the same global structures of common difference: Patrick: Revolution House smacks of a certain pretentiousness. And that’s perfectly fine. a café flâneur. you’re not against statements. As evinced by the disparagements of Anchors Away. did you really need to go to the junkyard and pull out the front seat of a ’57 Chevy to make that your bench? No. occasionally rude or indifferent staff. It’s like. did you really not have enough money to buy a couple of matching chairs at IKEA or something like that? Or you know.31 standard complaints are inefficient service. Yet. offers a more pointed reading of Revolution House. and you’re also not against dress codes. Patrick. seeing it as a spontaneous. right? The problem is the hypocrisy in their “we’re against statements mentality” It’s like. We present his comment because it nicely illustrates how the authenticity ideal used to venerate local coffee shops can be turned on its head. The underlying dialectical tension is that .
anyway. Acknowledging this fact. Because of that. David treads along this slippery slope. I’m not sticking up for chains but they do have their place. It just seemed like I didn’t fit. We just had this conversation two weekends ago but it made me put things in a different perspective. when she travels. I’m not sticking up for chains but they do have their place. but the proverbial devil itself. like here it’s a little gothic and a little different. His former view of Starbucks as global pariah has been significantly moderated by a newly found awareness that this chain’s customerdriven orientation. Because Starbucks didn’t used to sell that. So. This interpretive theme addresses a family of issues related to the socially situated nature of consumer preferences.32 emulating Starbucks’ ambiance does not necessarily indicate that a local coffee shop is flouting the socially responsible values celebrated by oppositional localists. I don’t know that it is always better to go to the locally owned coffee shop than a chain coffee shop. and because of demonstrations and constant requests and complaints. though he is discussing. they started carrying it. I mean this is kind of a recent. I recently had this conversation with a friend of mine who says that when she travels. it’s more important to her to know that there is a place where she can get environmental friendly coffee because she thinks that locally owned places may not care about that at all. So. oh. She thinks having chain coffee shops are important because they are more inclined to be. their espresso and it just seems sterile. which can be lacking in owner-centric local coffee shops. In the following passage. how did she put it. also undercuts the sharp moral distinction that orders oppositional localists’ preferences and that anchors their oppositional brand communities. however. So. So. In developing this theme. it just felt uptight. it seemed too sterile. can engender socially beneficial outcomes: David: There was something I wanted to tell you about chain coffee stores. Starbucks particularly. not a Starbucks wannabe. responsive to the consumers. She thinks the environmental impact is greater than the socioeconomic impact of going to a local store that doesn’t sell organic coffee. There was nothing. we will not present additional textual data . anyway. A Cup of Capital to Sit (Socially Bounded Preferences) Scott: I don’t like Starbucks because it seemed like every time I was there the people have their laptop and then they have their New York Times or whatever. she goes to Starbucks because they sell shade-grown fair trade coffee.
styles of consuming. several café flâneurs identify Starbucks’ intimidating litany of drink options. replete with Euro-lingo. and comfort. Café flâneurs and oppositional localists share a common experiential goal: finding a coffee shop where one feels a sense of belonging. Returning to Scott’s vignette.e. as a key source of their discomfort. the skinny. is whether . however. For example. Allen (2002) further develops the implications of this sociological view in his “Fits Like A Glove” (FLAG) framework. their narratives suggest a post-hoc rationalization of affectively-driven preferences (see Zajonc and Markus 1982). Drawing from the work of Pierre Bourdieu. and preferences. The much satirized. is a standard feature of coffee shop culture..33 because it has been a subtext of the preceding participant quotes. practice-oriented view of consumer preferences and tastes. customers who use laptops and read the New York Times are fixtures in even the most bohemian coffee shops. Our participants’ narratives exhibit many qualities that are quite consistent with Allen’s FLAG model. Our position is that these preference-driving experiences reflect the socio-cultural shaping of consumer choice. However. When our coffee shop consumers did seek to explain their experiences of belonging or not belonging. a large selection of drink options. homeyness. half decaf. double cappuccino) can be heard in local coffee shops and Starbucks alike. The differentiating factor. Their reflections are replete with references to being at home in some coffee shops and conversely feeling painfully out-of-place in others. half regular. From this standpoint. Holt (1998) has argued for an embodied. consumers’ family and social class backgrounds engender habituated and deeply felt predispositions that are in turn manifested through their aesthetic tastes. complexity of java lingo (i. ranging from basic espresso to the treacly but trendy frappuccino to the culture-blending chai latte.
“the Starbucks’ style has been with us for many years—in fact.” For individuals who hail from more affluent and intellectually oriented backgrounds. As summarized by Holt (1998. However. Their perception is an intuitive but quite apropos reading. cultural capital is commonly defined as “a set of socially rare. and knowledge” that is “fostered in the social milieu of cultural elites. p. Bourdieu’s (1984) cultural capital model proves less adequate for explaining the preferences for local coffee shops among our participants who have backgrounds that are working class or rural-agrarian. 84-85) discuss. Our participants speak as one in their view that Starbucks’ décor and ambiance exude a corporate feel. experiencing it as dull but comfortable third-place. a high level of cultural capital (HCC) is a naturalized aspect of their social world and life experiences. Holt (1998) and Allen (2002) both rely upon Bourdieu’s (1984) construct of cultural capital to theorize consumers’ experiences of fitting or not fitting. It also accounts for the perceptions of other participants who profess more positive feelings toward this chain. 3). individuals tend to be low in naturalized forms of cultural capital (LCC) when their family backgrounds are marked by conditions of socio-economic necessity and where educational emphasis is placed on acquiring practical skills needed to attain working class jobs (Allen 2002). skills. A cultural capital view of consumer preferences works quite well in explaining the feelings of discomfort that many of our participants expressed toward Starbucks. and distinctive tastes. p.34 or not these intricate drink menus and seemingly erudite clientele are embedded in an overall ambiance where participants feel at home. Conversely. As Schmitt and Simonson (1996. Let us begin with the cases where the cultural capital/FLAG model seems to apply. it has its roots in the hallways of corporate America. Starbucks transformed the world of coffee house leisure .
careerism. consumers who profess strong feelings of discomfort in Starbucks can also be explained through a cultural capital reading. are de facto social training grounds for the corporate world. well-designed office spaces. p. By considering the enduring aspects of his class background.” One can walk straight from the corporate corridors of power into a Starbucks with very little socio-cultural and aesthetic disturbance. however. as a successful corporate professional. economic status. Middle-class families. corporate boardrooms. for example. Their preferences for more aesthetically distinctive. In the case of Scott. a key credential for entry into the managerial echelons of the corporate world. He works as a business analyst in a financial services firm and is pursuing an MBA. Our participants who have middle class and upper middle class backgrounds find Starbucks’ upscale corporate ambiance to be a comfortable setting because they are fundamentally at home in this socio-cultural milieu. with their emphasis on educational credentials. However. one would expect Scott to experience Starbucks as a fairly hospitable environment or at least as one that resonates with his ideal self-image (Keller 1998). self-actualizing leisure. exoticism. decommodification. On the other hand. . we can rectify this apparent disparity. and Scott is the beneficiary of living in a state with a very strong public education system. his family valued educational achievement. law firms. and connoisseurship” (Holt 1998. At face value. his family background is rural-agrarian. and libraries. and material success (Holt 1998). even when their social backgrounds do not map onto the extreme polarities suggested by Holt’s (1998) HCC versus LCC acronymic claimto-fame. bohemian coffee shops can likewise be explained through HCC consumers’ predilections toward “cosmopolitanism.35 by echoing the precision and artistic level of modern. 19).
edifying orientation characteristic of HCC consumers (Allen 2002. they’re probably smarter because they can do math and fractions in their head and get it right first time and build this huge house you’re living in that won’t fall down on your head. Cultural capital theory predicts that such consumers will have consumption tastes characterized by preferences for the manual over the intellectual. the informal over the formal. he is a self-proclaimed sports nut and country and western fan. the HCC versus LCC distinction offers a less adequate explanation of the preferences for local coffee shops among our participants who. Starbucks’ corporate ambiance. In his interview. triggers Scott’s anxieties about his aptitudes and qualifications for corporate success along with his defensive posture toward the upper classes.e. coupled with the preponderance of seemingly upscale customers. Halle 1992. whom he believes look down upon the working class. On the other hand. preferring cultural experiences that are realistic and immediately relevant to their life circumstances) rather than the cosmopolitan. and that they will exhibit a referential consumption style (i. Scott expresses doubt about how far he can go in the corporate world and whether he has chosen the right career path. He funded his undergraduate college degree by working construction jobs. From a cultural capital standpoint. He further notes that interacting with other MBA students has made him more self-conscious about his working class background and has further exacerbated his sense of not fitting into the corporate world: Scott: They just don’t understand that somebody is not stupid because they don’t have a degree. He describes his tastes as being “very blue collar..” For example. Scott’s discomfort with Starbucks can be traced to the embodied predispositions that emanate from his class background. . and the material and hedonic over abstract ideals of formalist aesthetics. In fact. have working class and rural-agrarian backgrounds.36 None of Scott’s degrees are from elite institutions. like Scott.
Bourdieu’s analytic framework most directly addresses the social conditions that lead to the reproduction of class distinctions across different contexts and generations (Hall 1992). For example. economic opportunities. all express an appreciation for the aesthetic diversity of their preferred local coffee shops and proclaim their pleasure at being exposed to unusual and different art forms. The reflections of our participants with working class backgrounds are strikingly at odds with these LCC typifications. and spouses. Accordingly. social networks.37 Holt 1998). established socio-economic hierarchies can . LCC consumers have little appreciation for this genre.e. instead viewing realism and accuracy of depiction as the definitive signs of artistic merit (see Bourdieu 1984. In this sense. occupations. Holt (1998) and Allen (2002) focus on the reproduction of class distinctions through consumption practices and choices. p. Holt 1998). In this way. All praise the authenticity and cosmopolitan flair of their preferred coffee shops. and socio-political power are socially distributed within an objective field of distinction. the habitus) that distinguishes HCC from LCC consumers (see Hall 1992).” This conceptualization of the “desirable” is anchored in Bourdieu’s (1984) pivotal theoretical argument that economic resources. 19). HCC consumers possess cultural capital that provides access to “desirable education. the coffee shop preferences of our participants with LCC backgrounds have more than a passing resemblance to those normally associated with HCC consumption styles. Both assume that individuals will retain their habituated HCC or LCC predilections. whereas HCC consumers tend to have an aesthetic taste for abstract art.. For example. As defined by Holt (1998. all social actors are positioned within an overarching socio-economic hierarchy that is symbolically represented and internalized via the social conditioning of tastes (i. From this viewpoint. even in statistically uncommon cases of significant upward or downward economic mobility.
However. status distinctions in the club/rave culture scene cut across class lines. When individuals find themselves thrust into situations where their habituated practices do not mesh with social structures (Bourdieu’s prime example being the responses of Algerian peasants to the new economic and cultural order imposed by French colonizers). Our study suggest that these adaptations can occur with much less severe shocks and can be volitionally pursued rather than being imposed by external historical forces or massive structural changes in the economic order. These hierarchies are contingent upon knowledge of breaking musical genres. these socio-cultural shocks necessitate that embodied predispositions be adapted. and intellectual acuity (Bourdieu 1990).38 be rationalized as a natural consequence of the dominant classes’ refined tastes. similar in spirit to Sarah Thorton’s (1996) analysis of subcultural capital. high status in club culture does not directly transfer to other sectors . a cuttingedge fashion sensibility. For the most part. Coffee Shop Knowledge & Practices as Contextualized Capital. explaining this more subtle dialectic of transformation requires a contextualized view of cultural capital. social sophistication. Bourdieu (2000) does discuss a transformative dialectic that can arise between social actors’ embodied predispositions and the demands of social situations. skill in performing the newest dances. Thorton (1996) argues that Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory must be modified to adequately explain the status hierarchies at work in Britain’s youth-oriented club cultures. and very nuanced displays of coolness that deftly avoid exaggerated or self-conscious posturing. Bourdieu (2000) also posits (somewhat at odds with his overall theoretical position) that the extent of these adaptations will be marked by considerable individual variance. These transformative effects can mitigate expected LCC-HCC differences in consumption styles. Importantly.
the concept of subcultural capital highlights that there is no objective. all of which contribute to the accumulation of subcultural capital. The coffee shop milieu presents an interesting interplay between more elite forms of cultural capital and a form of subcultural capital. structurally autonomous field of distinction. To address these complexities. however. particularly for those who have designs on upward mobility. Rather. . updating wardrobes. From our standpoint.39 of the formal economy and society. As Thorton (1996) notes. and the costs of going to the hot clubs. To participate in local coffee shop culture is to become immersed in a set of discourses and aesthetic practices that have considerable overlap with the affinities of HCC consumers. Like generalized cultural capital. Thorton developed the construct of subcultural capital. The more status one has in club culture—which means it becomes a way-of-life rather that a weekend pursuit—are also more likely to face greater social stigma. clubbers are often stigmatized when seeking employment owing to their association with illicit drugs and perceived antagonism toward mainstream moral values. subcultural capital can be converted into economic capital (such as when in-the-know clubbers leverage their musical knowledge to organize rave events or to become DJs) and social capital via the myriad social networks that operate within the club culture. always contextualized. local coffee shops can be inviting and accessible cultural training ground for individuals lacking in cultural capital resources. in fact. Conversely. which refers to cultural capital that operates and confers status within a particular social domain. clubbers readily spend economic capital on record collections. In some sense. forms of cultural capital and the statues they convey are.
discuss in detail how they became coffee connoisseurs through their experiences in local coffee shops. This form of training is most prevalent among patrons of Magic Bean. modeled after winetasting protocols. against cultural capital typing. it is quite common for LCC and HCC consumers to consume the many of the same objects (or social spaces) but they should do so in dramatically different ways. Holt 1998). they became educated into the nuances of coffee connoisseurship and the differences between coffee varieties. Over time. As Holt (1998) notes. she holds regular coffee-tasting events. the details of the particular roast used. Several also reported. with LCCs presumably being quite content in the world of mass consumer culture and its homogenizing tendencies: .40 For example. such as those that are bright and wine-like versus full-bodied ones with earthy undertones. None of our Magic Bean regulars had been coffee connoisseurs prior to discovering this shop. they had a general preference for coffee and began frequenting Magic Bean owing to its location and comfortable feel. and recommendations for the grind most appropriate for a given brewing technique. and the purchase of a pound of coffee often comes with a recitation about the sensory properties of the beans. Rather. To clarify. education. For example. again with working class backgrounds. the theoretical issue in question is not the shared preferences for local coffee shops among consumers having greater or lesser degrees of cultural capital (as defined by family background. that their newfound appreciation for fine coffee and proper techniques of preparation had gradually led to a more discriminating stance toward food and restaurants. whose owner takes it as a personal mission to educate customers about coffee. Several of our participants. She has created an informal but didactic third-space. and occupational culture). connoisseurship is heralded as a defining trait among HCC consumers (Halle 1992.
Most importantly. owing to the underlying structures of common. cosmopolitan. and disaffected artists (though that historical legacy contributed to the coffee shop cachet). they nonetheless are exposed to an aesthetically diverse. What socio-cultural factors can be used to explain this convergence between LCC and HCC styles? The Starbucks revolution popularized coffee shops as a form of third-place. We argue that the anti-Starbucks discourse operates as a form of cultural capital within the context of local coffee shop cultures and that this contextualized form of cultural capital (which implies a particular intellectual and aesthetic stance) overlaps with . they tend toward connoisseurship. all traits imputed to an HCC orientation. they express strong desires for creative self-expression and personal enrichment. they use coffee shops as a means to construct identities that differ from the mainstream status quo. often reflecting neighborhood demographics.41 The pursuit of individual style in the face of pervasive homogenizing forces is problematic only for HCCs for whom originality and authenticity is a highly valued mark of distinction in their social milieu. and they are vitally concerned with the question of authenticity. 21). The proliferation of local coffee shops that followed in this wake led to a number of niches catering to different kinds of consumers. they embrace aesthetic diversity removed from their actual life experiences. As such. individuals readily could find an accessible coffee shop to use as a third-place hangout but. The LCCs do not encounter this problem. our LCC consumers are highly critical of mainstream consumer culture and the homogenizing forces of globalization. since they pursue lifestyles in a less individuated manner that neither precludes commodification nor demands unique identities (Holt 1998. they became a fashionable place to be seen rather than just being a meeting ground for intellectuals. p. bohemians. In sharp contrast. connoisseur-oriented social milieu. local coffee shop culture gradually immerses individuals in the antiStarbucks discourse.
The Starbucks brandscape maps local coffee shops and their regular patrons within a network of discourses and . it suggests that brand image is better conceptualized as a narrative system rather than as an associative network. and many other morally charged distinctions.. the overlap between the coffee shop preferences and consumption styles of HCC and LCC consumers emerges from the confluence of several factors: 1) a cultural desire for comfortable third-places that seem to transcend class-differences. it further develops a dialectical view of brand meaning (e. First.g. and 4) the transformative interaction between individuals’ social backgrounds and the localized forms of cultural capital that exist within coffee shop culture. Echoing the key terms of the antiStarbucks discourse. This critical view inculcates a kind of aesthetic appreciation that extends beyond hedonic pleasures or a referential identification. 2) the popularization of coffee shops as third-places. Participation in local coffee shop culture provides access to localized cultural capital that engenders a style of consumption more commonly associated with HCC consumers. In sum. Second. For example. the stories consumers construct about Starbucks determine whether its ambiance is interpreted as simply dull or a diabolical threat to cultural diversity. DISCUSSION Our analysis of the Starbucks brandscape offers four major contributions. authenticity. 3) the diversification of local coffee shops along a set of structures of common difference. comfortable/homey or intimidating/totalitarian.42 consumption practices typically associated with HCCs. The anti-Starbucks discourse also constructs local coffee shops as bastions of cultural difference. Holt 2002). both our working class informants and bourgeois informants agree that this global brand is a grave threat to cultural diversity. and tradition that can be used to resist the forces of cultural homogenization.
the meanings of the Starbucks’ brand are also constructed in relation to the micro-market positioning and customer communities of local coffee shops. While this approach has considerable theoretical merit. and 3) a transitional relationship that is organized by superficial self-brand connections and that relies upon disliked brands to define who the consumer is not. In contrast. Her list of brand relationships is by no means exhaustive.43 Starbuckified aesthetic dimensions. Reciprocally. Another interpretive tack would be to further explicate the different kinds of brand-consumer . Our analysis also suggests an alternative means of mapping out consumer-brand relationships. Fourth. it extends research on the socially shaped nature of consumer preferences (Allen 2002. it abstracts consumer-brand relationships away from the marketplace contexts (and marketplace discourses) in which they are embedded. Fournier (1998) discusses three kinds of brand relationships: 1) a traditional one in which commitments to trusted brands serve to anchor consumers’ self-concept. Holt 1998) by developing a contextualized view of cultural capital that is grounded in marketplace discourses and consumption practices and that can efface the predicted class-based differences in consumption tastes. Third. our café flâneur and oppositional localist classifications highlight relationship orientations that are embedded and conventionalized in the Starbucks brandscape. Fournier’s (1998) generalizable move is to develop a typology of brand relationship trajectories and a theoretically related model of brand relationship quality based on analogy to interpersonal relationships. 2) a postmodern one where consumers enact multiple selves through a diversity of brand meanings. it extends prior research on oppositional brand loyalty (Muniz and O’Guinn 2001) by exploring the underlying narrative and experiential foundations of this opposition and by revealing that different forms of oppositional brand loyalty can be engendered by a common critical construction of an enemy brand.
often having a strong normative bent (Keller 2002). key structural commonalities can be discerned among the variety of idiosyncratic relationships that individual consumers may form with a given brand.44 relationships that exist within these collectively shared styles of consuming local coffee shops. understanding the respective motivations and preferences of café flâneurs and oppositional localists can provide actionable insights for enhancing customers’ feelings of passion and commitment toward an establishment. Beyond Brand Image The vast majority of research undertaken on branding ensues from psychological orientation. the underlying structural commonalities that exist across a multiplicity of consumer-brand relationships. in his current life ordered by the demands of work and parenthood. Pushing this line of analysis further would provide theoretical insights into how consumers’ brand relationships are shaped by specific marketplace contexts and. a generic recommendation to increase consumers’ love and passion toward the brand might well leave an owner of a local coffee shop more flabbergasted than enlightened. such as offering little perks that can be interpreted as a gift or becoming the artistic hub of a local neighborhood or taking up a radically politicized anti-Starbucks position. However. In this way. This cultural mode of analysis can provide situation-appropriate ideas for enhancing key attributes of brand quality relationship (Fournier 1998). in a more managerial vein. In this psychological/managerial . His personal form of café flâneurship bears a similarity to Fournier’s (1998) brand traditionalists. a sense of continuity to a former lifestyle of less encumbered cosmopolitanism. Patrick’s favorite local coffee shops invoke memories of a very significant (and transformative) period of his life and thereby help to sustain. For example. This approach is foreshadowed by our discussion of Patrick’s college experiences of German cafés and their biographical connection to his ardent patronage of local coffee shops.
Keller 2002. now Starbucks’ chairman. Starbucks was a small Seattlearea coffee retailer. Starbucks locations thus far have successfully delivered superior benefits to customers by appealing to all five senses.through the enticing aroma of the beans. the primary threat to Starbucks’ stellar brand image would be management confusing consumers by muddying up what the brand stands for or by losing focus on their distinctive competencies in service and product quality. the contemporary music playing in the background. opening coffee houses like those in Italy. From this normative standpoint. p. the rich taste of the coffee. Starbucks’ positive associations and the various aspects of the servicescape that appeal to “all five senses” are contingent upon consumers’ narrative frame-of-reference. it . 2000. van Osselaer and Alba 2000). The culture grabbed him. Howard Schultz. For café flâneurs. and even the cozy. And so Starbucks began to focus its efforts on building a coffee bar culture. and other intangibles (see Aaker and Joachimsthaler 2000. Seldom do their assessments of the brand address the underlying cultural complexities which often contain the seeds for cultural and marketplace backlashes. symbolic meanings.45 oriented research stream. a brand is a central node of an associative network that consumers form over time as they learn connections between the brand and variety of cues. The psychological-normative brand management literature expresses unbridled hosannas toward brands. The extreme vertical integration has paid off. was inspired by the romance and the sense of community he felt in Italian coffee bars and coffee houses. which enjoy dominant market positions. benefits. Just as important. clean feel of the tables and chairs (Kevin Lane Keller. at least before the latent problems come to fruition: Consider Starbucks. the product displays and attractive artwork adorning the walls. It's not just a cup of coffee. 148). Starbucks’ ambiance is less cozy than boringly bourgeois. Consumers’ brand image associations then influence their future information acquisition and choice strategies (van Osselaer and Janiszewski 2001). like Nike or Starbucks. However. whereas for oppositional localists. and he saw an opportunity…. the company maintained control over the coffee from start to finish—from the selection and procurement of the beans to their roasting and blending to their ultimate consumption. Then while on vacation in Italy. In 1983.
None of these studies has pursued the broader implication that under certain sociocultural/marketplace conditions. While associative network models do not formally theorize the notion of culture. such as the transferal and adaptation of the McDonaldization thesis (Ritzer 1998) to Starbucks or the cultural jamming appropriations of the Starbucks logo by consumer and antiglobalization activists.46 symbolizes an alienating. . Nonetheless. Muniz and O’Guinn 2001). culture functions as an exogenous variable that influences consumers’ cognitive processes and structures. In contrast. An associative network theorization of brand image also has difficulty addressing the cultural construction of a brand that occurs through complex social and cultural interlinkages. The anti-Starbucks discourse even derides the quality of Starbucks’ coffee and its patented roast (Charbucks). the primary thrust of their research implications details how their empirical findings and theoretical insights can enhance the management of brand image and brand equity. Holt 2002. and act and as being the very fabric of social identifications and collective actions is largely irrelevant to this theoretical construction of the brand-culture relationship. McAlexander. our analysis of the Starbucks brandscape aligns with an emerging stream of research that is advancing a cultural conceptualization of the relationships among brands. colonizing. Schouten. popular culture. their default assumption is that culture is a complex array of information that individuals more or less incorporate into their cognitive schemata. and consumer experiences (Fournier 1998. and Koenig 2002. and homogenizing corporate intrusion upon a vibrant local coffee shop scene. the analytic goals of these studies remain subtly directed by the historical dominance of managerial/psychological interests in brand research. In these models. The anthropological view of culture as something intrinsic to the ways in which individuals think. feel. brands can function as a cultural category or model. Accordingly.
Thus.47 Roy D’Andrade (1990. The brand-as-cultural-model is a constellation of discourses. 45) defines a cultural model as a “cognitive schema that is intersubjectively shared by a cultural group. and idiosyncratic memories that emanate from their biographical circumstances and specific contextual demands and cues. they can then generate personalized mental models (which is equivalent to the cognitive psychological construct of a cognitive schema) which blend intersubjectively shared meanings with mental images. and the . p. atmospherics. social practices. the experiences being delivered. and material forms (such as the layout of a coffee shop) that influences the thoughts and actions of consumers. Schmitt 1999). As more and more corporations stake out competitive positions in the experience economy (Pine and Gilmore 1999. and guidelines (Martha Stewart Living. The underlying cultural model nonetheless engenders a family resemblance among the diversity of mental models that different individuals (and circumstances) can call forth. their brand discourses are translated into multifaceted servicescapes which encode brand meanings in spatial layout. reference points. a cultural model shapes individual action and thought both through institutionalized social practices and interactions with the material world and through internalization via cognitive and embodied structures. mythic appeals (such as Harley-Davidson and the outlaw biker mystique) to intricate lifestyle narratives. Ralph Lauren) brands can become conduits of corporate-inspired discourses that aim to shape consumers’ lifestyles and identity goals in a fairly profound way. ideals. Through the use of corporate icons (ranging from Betty Crocker to the Nike-Michael Jordan basketball industrial complex). REI.” Bradd Shore (1996) elaborates upon this basic definition by proposing that cultural models are institutionalized through socially shared and publicly available discourses and representations via ritual practices and embodiment in the design of the physical environment. Once individuals have internalized a cultural model.
2001). When a customer walks into a Starbucks and sees a display of free-trade coffee or that organic milk is now available on request. there is a good chance that these product offerings will be interpreted in relation to the public critiques of its corporate modus operandi. its coffees. These conditions lead to a fair degree of inertia that limits the extent to which managers can change the brands’ dominant meanings because they are manifested across a wide range of marketplace stakeholders and different social spaces. The Starbucks brand manifests many aspects of a cultural model but on an even broader scale. catalogues.48 appearance and demeanor of employees (see Sherry et al. To return to Starbucks’ decision to sell fair . Euro-chic. Starbucks’ management does not intentionally propagate the anti-Starbucks discourse but it is a pervasive aspect of its brandscape because the micro-market dynamics of local coffee shops and the myriad social networks that link anti-global activism with local coffee shop patronage. and services are embedded in a rhetorical system that conveys cosmopolitan sophistication. The Starbucks revolution has thoroughly shaped consumers’ expectations and ideals about what a coffee shop should look like and the kinds of experiences it should afford. products. In terms of Starbucks. As we have shown. and 6000-plus retail outlets. These Starbuckified structures of common difference have given rise to myriad Starbucks clones and countercultural bohemian coffee shops that are defined by their antithetical positioning to Starbucks’ corporate ambiance. the anti-Starbucks’ discourse also exerts a significant influence upon the perceptions of local coffee shop patrons. ideals that are consistently reinforced in the very design of Starbucks’ third-place stagings (see Schmitt and Simonson 1996). and professional success (see Elliott 2001). worldliness. Starbucks’ cultural influence extends well beyond the confines of its corporate website.
org).49 trade coffees. café flâneurs and oppositional localists demonstrate qualitatively different forms of oppositional brand loyalty and experience distinctive forms of moral conflict with respect to their coffee shop patronage. Activists decry this move as a cynical marketing ploy. and Koenig 2002. their opposition hails from not only a sense of direct threat to their preferred local coffee shops but also the iconic status of Starbucks in broader cultural criticism of global capitalism. Schouten. this strategic shift has had little effect on the general terms of the anti-Starbucks discourse.organicconsumers. The institutionalized and socially diffuse nature of brand discourses is elided by the conventional idea that brands are something that corporations own (Aaker and Joachimsthaler 2000. countering that free trade coffees comprise less than one percent of Starbucks’ wholesale purchases (www. Keller 1998. However. For example. As exemplified by the rivalries between Apple users and IBM users and later Windows users. oppositional brand loyalty strengthens the brand community’s feelings of social solidarity by constructing a competitive brand as a threat to the survival of the brand community and the integrity of its shared values. Starbucks motivates oppositional brand loyalty among local coffee shop enthusiasts. . Muniz and O’Guinn 2001). 2000) and it is only partially broached by the more democratic view of the brand as a set of meanings co-constructed between a corporation and its consumers (McAlexander. The brand community literature most directly engages the multiplicity of socio-cultural relationships and intersecting discourses that contextualize brand meanings when discussing the phenomenon of oppositional brand loyalty (Muniz and O’Guinn 2001). The anti-Starbucks discourse is a multi-faceted one that generates different kinds and degrees of opposition toward the brand. Unquestionably.
contested. thereby functioning as a metacognitive and ideological system. including those embodied in consumption servicescapes. embodied practices. and otherwise infused by myriad cultural discourses. . We have argued that hegemonic brands can exert a structuring influence upon consumers’ thoughts. Rather than thinking about brands or experiencing emotions toward a brand. The brand becomes a cultural model that consumers incorporate into their personal outlooks. feelings. we have used it as an analytic device to illuminate consumers’ socially shared marketplace knowledge and more broadly marketplace meanings. the much-discussed corporate strategy of integrating brands into consumer lifestyles (Holt 2002. and actions through their complex of discourses and material forms. Seen in this light. appropriated. consumers may come to think and feel through the discourses and material forms that constitute the brand’s cultural form. Under such conditions. and communal identities.50 CONCLUSION Rather than treating the brand as a management tool or an object of consumer perceptions. Klein 1999) can be an impetus toward a broader social dialogue whereby the brand is constructed. a brand acquires a socio-cultural significance that extends well beyond its origins as a strategic tool of marketing management. reconstructed.
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empty nester Single Single Single Single Divorced with kids Single Single Married Single Single Single Married Single with kids Single Single Single Married with kids Married Single Single Single Single Married Single Married .56 TABLE 1 PROFILE OF PARTICIPANTS Pseudonym Alan Anne Beth Bob Brian Carie Cooper David Debbie Dennis Ella Fatima Frank George Greg Janet John Joy Kate Kevin Kumar Laura Martha Mary Matthew Molly Patricia Patrick Paul Rebecca Rose Sandra Scott Stephen Tori Age 70 42 21 40 39 43 33 37 26 Early 70’s 28 22 34 31 36 21 34 34 35 mid 30s 30 27 60 Mid 20s 32 30 52 31 30 21 26 33 26 40 32 Occupation Writer-publisher College professor Student Massage therapist Mental health nurse Teacher/Track coach Private investigator Librarian Marketing researcher Retired police officer Graduate student Student Production manager Graduate student Sales consultant Student Graduate student Social worker Freelance writer/ yoga instructor Teacher Graduate student Social worker Retired social worker/ student Student Engineer/consultant Student Small business owner Small business owner Unemployed Student Teacher Graduate student Graduate student/ business Analyst Taxi driver/ union organizer Graduate student Education BS PhD BS (in progress) BS MS MS BS BS BA BS PhD (in progress) BS (in progress) BS PhD (in progress) MBA BS (in progress) PhD (in progress) BS High school MS PhD (in progress) BS BS (in progress) BS (in progress) PhD MS (in progress) Some college MS BS BS (in progress) BS PhD (in progress) MBA (in progress) BS PhD (in progress) Family Status Married. empty nester Divorced with kids Single Single Single Single Single Married Married Married .
57 FIGURE 1 Culture Jamming Versions of the Starbucks’ Logo .
58 FIGURE 2 Meanings of the Local in the Starbucks’ Brandscape Global Structures of Common Difference/Anti-Starbucks Discourse Local Coffee Shop Milieu Café flâneurs Oppositional Localists The Buzz •Social •Creative •Negotiating Moral Ambivalence Communal Grounds •Radical Political Sensibility •Countercultural Haven •Negotiating Moral Ambivalence Interplay of contextualized social & cultural capital A Cup of Capital to Sit •Socially Bound Preferences Interplay of contextualized social & cultural capital .
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