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A $2.3 Billion Cup of Coffee

May 9, 2019

The latest social controversy that has lit up the Twitterverse is Game Of Thrones. No, we’re not talking about the Dothraki charge. The biggest deal was the rogue coffee cup that appeared in episode four of this season.

As with most controversies, there was the hint of a conspiracy. Did Starbucks pay for that placement? Was it an intentional gaffe on the producers’ part to spark conversation?

Nope, it was just a mistake. One that garnered Starbucks over two BILLION dollars of earned media. The punch line? It wasn’t even a Starbucks cup.

Think about how strong a brand Starbucks is to get that much free publicity over a generic coffee cup. People naturally assumed it was a Starbucks. Not a Dunkin’ Donuts or Peet’s or Seattle’s Best Coffee. It had to be the brand that has become the Kleenex of coffees.

This is the quintessential demonstration of the power of branding.

It is also a lesson for radio.

Radio is a media platform that has earned loyalty and recognition over the years for creating an emotional bond with its audience. It did not win because of “variety” or “ten-in-a-row.” It won because it filled a need, provided a service, and fostered a community. Do people really pay Starbucks three or four bucks because their coffee is so amazing?

Do people listen to radio because it’s the one thing everyone at work can agree on?

No. Radio is experiential. It is individual. And, it is a culmination of the thousands of smaller brands that make up a market. Radio is like coffee and the individual stations are the syrups (OK, a stretch, but you get the point).

The question is – does radio still create brands? Is the Classic Rock station in Des Moines any different from the one in Dallas? Is the local talk or news station focusing on backyard news or the latest DC dust-up? Are there personalities – people – in each market who make a difference? Every. Single. Day.

Brand building is about setting up expectations and then delivering on them. As a self-proclaimed Starbucks junkie, I KNOW what I’m getting when I order their black iced tea. Every. Single. Time.

The Ratings Experts from Research Director, Inc. are devoted to finding numbers and explaining the results that are delivered by Nielsen Audio. That is the scientific component to radio results.

But, the greater-performing stations we see (and work with) – the ones that not only survive but thrive – are more than call letters and slogans. They have built themselves into brands that people WANT to engage with. They can get the same songs – on demand – any time they want. They can get traffic and weather together with the click of an app. What they cannot get is the sense of community, the companionship, the human touch that is radio’s specialty.

I realize an individual radio station could never rise to the level of a Starbucks. It doesn’t have to. But radio – the medium – can. It starts at the grassroots level. The cumulative effect over time would be to raise radio’s profile to the level of “preferred” as opposed to its current state of “medium.”

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant