Like celebrity deaths, do waves always come in threes? Our long history of mocking the industry term, the Third Wave, aside, we’re starting to think our affections for Starbucks are entering a third wave of sorts. Years ago it transitioned from ridicule to ambivalence, but now it’s starting to take on subtle shades of pity.

The reason? According to today’s Seattle Times, it now seems they’re experimenting with the idea that the Starbucks brand itself has become a liability: Local News | Starbucks tests new names for stores | Seattle Times Newspaper. The news that Starbucks now believes that obscuring their green mermaid brand might help their sales, and their neighborhood image, is pretty much an admission that the Starbucks brand may hold more negative connotations than positive ones.

You are not your grande latte. In fact, you're not even 'Starbucks' anymore. Oddly enough, this news came out right on the heels of the publicized arrest of a 17-year-old Fight Club wannabe, who bombed a NYC Starbucks back in May as part of his own private Project Mayhem: 17-year-old blows up a Starbucks because he was inspired by Brad Pitt’s ‘Fight Club’ character // Current. (Now if only I emulated all the movies that came out when I was 7 years old…)

Selling your soul to the highest bidder

A little over a year ago, we hypothesized about the idea of a “Starbucks Select” concept for the company to overcome its mass-produced image and regain some relevance to quality coffee again. Think of what Toyota did in launching the Lexus brand. But with this news, in effect, Starbucks is experimenting with taking this idea much further — by omitting the “Starbucks” name entirely and investing in something akin to the absence of branding.

Though if you’re a Starbucks shareholder — and Fidelity Investments is now their largest shareholder — you have to give the company a little credit. If they truly want to convince Wall Street that they are a soulless money-making machine, demonstrating the will to sell out their own brand identity in a heartbeat, should that boost their profits, makes for a compelling argument.

Mike Doughty, NYC resident (OK, Brooklyn) and former frontman of Soul Coughing, performs his song, “Busting Up A Starbucks”:


UPDATE: July 29, 2009
In case you were curious what the inside of a Starbucks Select looks like: Inside Starbucks New Stealth Store: 15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea – PSFK. (Thanks to one of our regular readers for the link.)

UPDATE: April 6, 2010
Starbucks continues to disown their brand with Roy Street Coffee & Tea: Starbucks Gets A Makeover (And Wine) – Slashfood.