Stalking Caribou into dangerous territory

I recently saw this little blurb in Ad Age:

Caribou Coffee bows first national TV effort
Caribou Coffee, the country’s second-largest coffee chain behind Starbucks, today will launch its first national TV ad campaign. The creative by Colle & McVoy seeks to poke fun at Starbucks loyalists by portraying them as marionettes.

Caribou drinking a Starbucks

©2009 Josh Freeman

As a Starbucks, Peets, Coffee Bean and even local café customer, this made me bristle. And I bet it’ll do that to other coffee lovers, too.

Caribou is not Apple, and Starbucks is not Microsoft. I’ve been to several Caribou Coffee stores, and they’re nothing to bellow about. They’re fine. Pleasant. But they don’t inspire, they aren’t highly innovative, and their coffee isn’t in a class by itself. So slamming people for buying coffee in a place that is innovative, that works hard to keep its experience fresh and relevant, and that transformed an entire industry, seems questionable.

Anyway, we aren’t puppets. We go to Starbucks not because we’re coffee snobs (head to Peets for that) but because it’s convenient, a little entertaining and has way better java than 7-Eleven.

In the posted spot, which I admit is pretty funny, Caribou is positioning their product as more “real” than Starbucks (or presumably anyone else’s). But the drink they show is a pretentious mess of whipped cream and chocolate gunk — basically a dessert. If they’re so real, why are they not talking about the coffee? (Answer: There’s no difference? Or maybe Starbucks’ coffee is actually — um — better?)

Looks to me like they’re setting Starbucks up for an easy counter. And I have to ask myself if this approach will end up putting Caribou on the endangered species list.

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