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Starbucks Brews a Fresh Pot of Publicity

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Faced with consumers cutting back on purchases and stiff competition from McDonald’s McCafe, Starbucks today (Wednesday) launched an ad campaign touting its newly earned accolade in Zagat’s 2009 Fast Food survey: “No. 1 Best Coffee.”

Zagat released the results of its 2009 Fast Food Survey on Monday. Starbucks won for best coffee in the “fast food” segment. The campaign, via BBDO, New York, to promote the win breaks in major newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. In less than 48 hours, Starbucks said it has been able to “pull the lever” on several marketing components—from newspaper ads to digital, paid search and social media—in an effort to generate buzz for the brand.

The goal was to implement a marketing campaign that would effectively link both offline and online components, including paid search, digital ads and e-mail mailings to registered Starbucks cardholders. Starbucks also bought “smart-targeted placements” on web sites like Yelp.com, where users share ratings on categories including shopping, dining and arts and entertainment.

The social media component involves Starbucks reaching out to its Twitter community of 200,000 members, as well as Facebook, where the brand has 1.8 million fans, and MyStarbucksIdeas.com (a community of 180,000 registered members).

Starbucks could use the publicity. Data from YouGov’s BrandIndex—which tracks consumer perception of more than 1,100 brands on a daily basis—showed that Starbucks lags behind Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s in terms of perceived value. Though the gap narrowed toward the end of May, McDonald’s ongoing push for the McCafe has widened the distance between the two brands, BrandIndex found.

The new effort tries to change brand perception by linking customer appreciation with the quality of Starbucks coffee. “Zagat says we’re the country’s #1 best coffee. Actually you said it, but Zagat repeated it (which is nice),” the ads state.

Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks’ vp of brand, online and content, said the campaign reflects the chain's agility. “It’s actually a pretty well-oiled machine here, because we have great, ongoing conversations with our consumers,” he said. “That’s a daily conversation that’s going on and it makes us really nimble, flexible and enables us to do great things very quickly.”

The campaign will continue into July, and in September, Starbucks will also incorporate in-store signage, Bruzzo said.

The move follows Starbuck’s recent streak of aggressive media promotions. Close to Election Day, it ran a spot, also via BBDO, New York, which posed a series of questions, such as: “What if we all cared enough to vote? Not just 54% of us, but 100% of us.” More recently, it’s began a push for its Via line of instant coffee and last week, Starbucks scored a sponsorship deal with MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

All the buzz could be helping the chain already. Among adults ages 18 and over, Starbucks' buzz score jumped from -2.2 on June 1 to 27.2 yesterday (Tuesday). Dunkin' Donuts ended the day with 24.5 and McDonald's was at 15.6.