Five-Cent Frenzy

Starbucks raised its coffee prices five cents, its first increase in more than two years, and a minor media frenzy ensured. Am I the only one who finds this strange? Some stories actually led with the assertion that Starbucks customers would likely be unfazed by the price increase. Well, duh!

What it reinforces for me is that “overpriced coffee” has become firmly entrenched as part of the story some people tell themselves about Starbucks as much as others believe the Starbucks story is more about community and less about selling commodities. In reality, both are correct depending on the story customers (and in this case, journalists) have already created for themselves and the role they play in the Starbucks experience.

If part of your personal narrative is that you are a value-driven frugal shopper, Starbucks be is the classic antagonist carrying weapons of overpriced drinks and an elitist air with its own language for ordering a simple beverage. See yourself as a relationship-oriented connector and Starbucks is the ultimate community center where yo can see and be seen.

Given its market penetration and pervasiveness, Starbucks probably can do little at this point to shift these two narrative thrusts just as McDonald’s will always be seen as a poor nutritional choice despite its increasing number of healthful options on its menu. Changing stories is incredibly challenging once the basic plot lines have taken hold. But that’s not to say we shouldn’t try.

Peter Gelb, managing director of the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world’s most visible opera companies has unleashed an interesting assault on a difficult story to change: opera is highbrow. Efforts in the past few days include a weekend open house for a free performance of a Madame Butterfly rehearsal complete with the invitation to walk across the stage after the performance; a Hollywood-style red carpet opening night featuring celebrities and paparazzi; and live simulcast showings of that opening night performance on the Jumbotron in Times Square and in screens placed outside of Lincoln Center.

Media stories have described his efforts as populist. Time will tell if they help make opera more popular.

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