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