Maybe it’s the relentless onslaught of appalling economic news that makes us long for something lighter; maybe it really is important. So why is the world jumping like beans for the launch of a Starbucks brand of instant coffee, Via Ready Brew?
Well, for those who like their lattes skinny or fat, it’s a big deal that such an iconic global chain of coffee shops is venturing into a product that most Americans hate (statistics here claim only 7% of the US population drink the stuff, against 81% of Britons).
Harvard Business School professor, John Quelch, sees Starbucks’ move as showing “great commercial courage” and “innovation” in a section of the coffee business that has been “an unspeakable wasteland” (boy, the Yanks really do hate instant coffee!). John Moore at Brand Autopsy begs to differ, viewing Via as a “distraction” that won’t help the company save its core business of selling upmarket coffee in easy-chair surroundings.
And that grump over at The Guardian, Zoe Williams, just can’t stand it.
But the word on the Tweet street shows how Starbucks has harnessed the good will spring within social media. Following Twitter users’ comments over the past couple of days reveals the naysayers you’d expect, but also a stream of encouragement for the coffee king’s new departure. Having its own regularly updated Twitter feed and real people responding to Tweets positions Starbucks well with its existing customers as well as potential converts.
Initial taste testers on Twitter are suggesting “It’s not that bad”, which is a veritable declaration of love from a nation so averse to water soluble java. Requests for free samples are coming in from other countries and even clarifications that the new product is Kosher (it is).
Twitter has also proven itself a useful viral channel for spreading the word and uptake of free Via samples, now allegedly sold out due to demand.
Will it work? Who knows. And the riskiness of Starbucks’ gamble is summed up neatly in a tweet this morning from @space_needle: “I will try this instant coffee #Via. I’m a big coffee snob. YOU started that, by the way.”