This morning we hit Starbucks in Fairfield, Conn., on a perfect coffee-shop day. Gray skies, overcast, rainy. We dodged the taste-test guys at the door, grabbed a mocha-venti-something, and headed for the second floor, filled with plush couches and wide windows. Beautiful. Except there is no free Wi-Fi.
If you travel, you know Wi-Fi is as necessary as a pressed shirt. We’ve noticed the trend of coffee shops cutting internet access before, but since we’re now on planes three times a month shooting all over the country, we decided to sign up for the Starbucks paid Wi-Fi via AT&T. For $20 a month. $240 a year. And it hit us, getting on the internet at Starbucks is costing us more than a new iPhone.
So we tweeted “Starbucks I Hate You.“
Now, this isn’t a rant on Starbucks’ cheapness. We can guess how the game is played. The titanium-craniumed boys from McKinsey come in, provide a black-and-white PowerPoint deck, and tell CEO Howard Schultz he can shave $XX million dollars by knocking out free Wi-Fi. Heck, Schultz can even make money with a rev-share with AT&T, and since he skipped a salary increase in 2009 due to tough times, this likely sounds good.
No, really. You’re a dumbass.
This is a rant about honesty. We tweeted our frustration, and Mullen ad guru Edward Boches wrote back whimsically “Guess they won’t be a client anytime soon.” We’re sure Edward was joking … but is it surprising that an ad agency might say something honest about a company’s mistake?
If you work in advertising you’ve seen lots of presentations to clients, and the worst usually begin with a sycophant complimenting the CEO about his golf game. Schmoozing, oozing flattery leads clients down dangerous garden paths. In fact, almost every campaign presentation is carefully orchestrated to push clients off-guard — watching the new creative on a shining flat-panel screen in a warm conference room filled with coffee, likely Starbucks. The glow of groupthink pervades as compliments abound. This is great. No, you’re great. This campaign will be great. And very rarely do we hear hard-hitting critiques of what could be done better. Agencies often have no incentive, because it costs them more to recut creative or media plans. Clients often don’t push back hard, because they’re already paying big bucks and admitting what they paid for is flawed hurts their own egos. Everyone has an incentive to be slightly dishonest, to say things are better than they are, and substandard ideas go out the door.
But what if we were all honest? What if you had Starbucks as a client, they suggested charging for Wi-Fi, and you looked Howard Schultz in the eye and said, friend, that is one big, dumb-ass move? Howard might be insulted. He might fire you, and have security kick you into the street. But then again, he might avoid a mistake, Starbucks customer loyalty would improve, and the chain might stop closing stores.
So Starbucks, when we say we hate you, we do it out of love. Now we’re going to figure out how to write this down as a business expense, and then get a second cup.