Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Parody as a Marketing Move

Dumb Starbucks is, as the world now knows, a parody cafe set up by comedian Nathan Fielder. Or perhaps I should use the past tense, because Dumb Starbucks opened on February 7 and was closed by the L.A. Dept. of Public Health on February 10. The cafe had been serving--for free--hot beverages like Dumb Espresso, Dumb Brewed Coffee, and Dumb Tea.

As any 21st century entrepreneurial venture would do, Dumb Starbucks publicized itself via Twitter. Around the time the cafe was shut down, the Twitter account had 13,100 followers and only 8 tweets, including a retweet of this ABC story.

Dumb Starbucks explained its existence this way: "In the eyes of the law, our 'coffee shop' is actually an art gallery and the 'coffee' you're buying is considered the art."

What does Starbucks say? Its official statement is: "We are aware of the store, it is not affiliated with Starbucks. We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark."

Parody as marketing helped Nathan Fielder capture an incredible amount of media coverage--just the way to launch his second season of Nathan for You on Comedy Central. In each episode, Fielder helps struggling businesses by suggesting offbeat marketing ideas that sometimes turn out well. 

A high-profile publicity stunt like Dumb Starbucks is certainly well beyond the budget of most entrepreneurs, however.

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