Starbucks pours great ad agency down the drain

Starbucks print ad from <a title="Link to W&K site for Starbucks ad" href=There are a few ad agencies that really understand relationship marketing and building brands based on emotional ownership over rational decision making processes- Wieden & Kennedy is one of them.

Since 2004 they’ve worked with Starbucks, a brand that’s been known as a poor client. When your agency fires you as a client, it’s time to do some introspection. Especially if you are a marquee type client.

Getting fired means you are doing something wrong, and Starbucks’ senior VP-marketing seems to be the first candidate for the introspection couch:

In a statement, Starbucks’ senior VP-marketing, Terry Davenport, said Wieden’s decision was a response to Starbucks’ recent move to ask a number of agencies it works with, including Wieden, to “provide ideas to move the brand forward. … And, as a result, Wieden has decided to opt out of the process,” he said.

While Wieden is Starbucks’ primary agency, the retailer has worked with a number of other agencies in recent years on co-branded products. Interpublic Group of Cos.’ DraftFCB, New York, is the primary shop on its grocery coffee business. Starbucks has also worked with Omnicom Group’s Goodby Silverstein & Partners on the bottled Frappucino beverages it co-markets with Pepsi and Energy BBDO for the coffee liqueur brand it co-marketed with Beam Global Wine & Spirits.

But Wieden, which also handled media buying and planning for the coffee roaster, as well as much of its in-store graphics work, had been responsible for the first large-scale advertising in Starbucks’ history, including its first TV push last winter.

Wieden Parts Ways With Starbucks - Advertising Age - Agency News.

Starbucks is a brand that’s a love it or hate it brand. Their market penetration is incredible, as I’m constantly reminded when I pop up my “Starbucks finder” on my iPhone and almost always find one nearby when the coffee urge hits my companions.

And here is where the fundamental problem exists: The best marketing and advertising that Starbucks can do- isn’t marketing or advertising in the traditional sense of the words- because it’s just not necessary. The focus should be on refining a voice through the brand touchpoints and building very tight relationships with their customers through Customer Relationship Management tools. This is hard for both a VP of Marketing to understand and hard for an ad agency to caculate a compensation program for.

Modern marketing techniques don’t come with conventional media billings- and for a company like Starbucks, they shouldn’t. But, an open mind of how to build relationships with customers should be the first order of discussion with any agency who is bold enough to take on this “difficult client.”

How big can you get before things go bad?

Well, way back in 1988- “how big van we get without getting bad?” was the question on Guy Day’s mind- because Jay Chiat had famously asked “I want to see how big we can get without getting bad.”

Because, creativity isn’t something that comes with a formula, or on demand- and sooner or later, everyone runs into “Creative block”- or can’t come up with the one, really, insanely great idea that carries through for ever- you know, like “Just do it” or “Hello, I’m a Mac, And I’m a PC” etc.

So when über hip, super hot, Crispin Porter + Bogusky landed a piece of the Nike business from the super hot, über hip, old standby agency- Wieden + Kennedy, the ad world gasped. Was no relationship sacred? Were CMO’s so cutthroat as to divorce the one that brought them fame and fortune?

Well- today, after 13 months, and ONE tv ad, Nike pulled the plug on CP+B and went home to the old standby according to AdAge:

Nike, Crispin Partnership Ends After 13 Months - Advertising Age - Agency News
Just more than a year after widening its roster to include hotshop Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Nike is shifting its running-shoe and Nike-Plus business back to lead agency Wieden & Kennedy, a spokesman for the marketer said.

Crispin CEO Jeff Hicks confirmed the split in a statement, citing a mutual decision to go different ways: “We will forever be in awe of the company that is Nike and wish them nothing but the best.”

A Wieden spokeswoman could not be immediately reached. A report of the split first surfaced on George Parker’s blog Adscam/The Horror.

Nike first stunned the ad world last April by adding Crispin to an agency roster long exclusively dominated by Wieden. The pairing of one of the most iconic brands of all time with the hotshop was seen by many as a harbinger of trouble for Wieden, but the collaboration thus far resulted in a single TV ad, for the iPod-integrated Nike-Plus brand, which ran in December.

While Crispin Porter is still a wildly successful group of talented people, they aren’t the answer for everything, as Nike found out. With Burger King, VW, and now Microsoft- the burden of being a genius on so many major accounts, requires great management expertise to go with the creative. Growing an agency can be tough. Need proof- look back at Jay Chiat and Guy Day’s questions from way back.

Note to Chief Marketing Officers- there is a lot to be said for institutional knowledge, and a lot more to be said for treating your agency as a trusted partner. When the work isn’t good, remember to check out your own brief and assignment?