Friday, February 14, 2014
Dumb Starbucks: A Great American Prank
Howard Schultz has made a fortune convincing first Americans and then the world that they should overpay for “gourmet” coffee prepared by “baristas.” Forget Folgers and Maxwell House, even A & P’s 8 O’Clock and Chock full o’Nuts; Americans are addicted to their daily latte or frappuccinos in vendi or grande cups. $13.3 billion in 2012. From a company founded in 1971 by three University of San Francisco graduates, who sold it to Howard Schultz in 1987, the company has morphed out of its Pikes Place Market site to become one of the strongest brands in the world. You cannot escape Starbucks; not in Moscow, not in Vietnam, not in the Princes Islands. But there is only one Dumb Starbucks in the world. It opened last Friday in a strip mall in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles at 180 Hillhurst Avenue at Melbourne. Its fame spread rapidly through social media. The line to get in was up to three blocks long. Watch Americans line up outside a Starbucks before it opens in the morning – but not three blocks long. What did the customers see when they entered the new Dumb Starbucks? It was not the ambience. The walls were bare except for two posters of coffee beans and a large Dumb Starbucks sign. The pastry counters had pastries in their original Vons’ packaging, but they weren’t for sale anyway. A stack of Dumb Music CD’s rested on the counter, but they too were for show only. Dumb Noah Jones Duets, A Dumb Taste of Cuba, and Dumb Jazz Standards were not for sale. Too bad! Our dumb luck! The Dumb Starbucks should have offered dumb blue ray DVDs of Dumb and Dumber. But no such dumb luck. The menu featured Dumb Vanilla Blonde Roast, Dumb Chi Tea Latte, Dumb Caramel Macchiato, Dumb Frappucchinos, Dumb Iced Tea, and Wuppy Duppy Lattes. The sizes were Dumb Venti, Dumb Grande, and Dumb Tall. Forge the menu. Only dumb coffees and dumb lattes were served. It clearly was not the location in a strip mall next to a coin Laundromat. Nor was it the service of the two baristas. The dumb baristas would not answer the questions of the dumbfounded patrons. The Los Feliz Dumb Starbucks had something uniquely special to offer to jaded Angelenos. It quickly acquired a cachet unknown to the 20,000 Starbucks in the world. Dumb Starbucks outmarketed Howard Schultz, one of America’s greatest marketers. It offered Americans something Schultz would never offer America. The magic word, unknown to Starbucks, is “FREE.” The dumb price was simple: “0.” Even the dumbest Angeleno understands the value of FREE. There can be a free lunch, or at least a free latte. Also free were the smart phone selfies in front of the Dumb Starbucks cutout. They would stand in line for hours to get a free latte. How dumb could they be? Several patrons immediately posted their Dumb Starbucks cups on EBay for sale. No American has been so dumb as to purchase a dirty cup, which might have value in 100 years. Dumb Starbucks shut down on Monday. It was just a prank. We lack good pranks in America these days - harmless jokes that strike an American vein. No more Dick Tuck whose pranks were aimed at Tricky Dicky, Richard Nixon. The Yes Men have not been heard from for years. Allan Funt would not dare do “Smile, You’re on Candid Camera” today. CalTech and MIT may sometimes steal a cannon, or substitute student newspapers, but they get little publicity. Political correctness, fear of liability or criminal prosecutions, the thought police, and a poor sense of humor have chilled classic pranks. Nathan Fielder announced Monday that Dumb Starbucks was a prank, probably we suspect for his Comedy Central show “Nathan for You.” His dumb legal defense of “fair comment” and “parody” would have failed had the real Starbucks sued. Dumb Starbucks will go down as one of the all-time classic pranks, requiring tremendous planning, capital, equipment, supplies, rent, utilities and payroll. It died before its time because the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health lacked a sense of humor with Dumb Starbucks. The Health Department Public Health shut Dumb Starbucks down Monday afternoon because it failed to get a permit to open and operate a restaurant. The company got three permits to film the Dumb Starbucks, but some dummkopf failed to get an operating permit. America needs a good laugh. Dumb Starbucks gave us a smart life.