Starbucks strives for instant gratification with Via launch

Starbucks added more complexity to its brand this fall by launching Via, an instant coffee product.

Company: Starbucks
Campaign: Via launch
Agency mix: BBDO, Edelman, Blast Radius
Lead agency: BBDO
In-house team: Lara Wyss, director of global consumer PR; Valerie O'Neil, VP of global comms; Jessica Mirsky, director of US marketing; Brady Brewer, VP of US marketing
Budget: Undisclosed

Starbucks added more complexity to its brand this fall by launching Via, an instant coffee product. It hopes consumers will use Via packets at times when their lives are too busy to go into a store. The company is also banking on its quality messaging to change negative attitudes about instant coffee in the US.

"We wanted to showcase the quality of this coffee by making this a fully integrated campaign," says Lara Wyss, director of global consumer PR at Starbucks. "We had an internal cross-functional team to make sure that all the disciplines and agencies were working together. Then we would break out into smaller, working teams to get our plans going."

Amy Kavanaugh, Edelman EVP and Starbucks global account manager, says strategic planning for the launch began more than two years ago.

The PR effort began with the February product announcement. Then on September 15, the team began a two-week nationwide trip with comedian Erin Foley. The trip's entertaining moments were turned into a Web series on Starbucks' YouTube channel.

On September 29, Starbucks began its ad push - its first national ad campaign specifically for a product. TV spots included customers unable to tell the difference between Via and Starbucks store-brewed coffee. Print ads focused on newspapers.

"As we looked at the full marketing mix, we recognized we had to have broad awareness to get people to taste Via," Wyss says. "We had very targeted media, but also wanted broad media coverage with the national media buy."

Wyss says brand cannibalization wasn't a concern because test-market feedback indicated customers wanted Via for times when going to Starbucks wasn't possible.

The team also launched a Web site,, with user-generated stories and contests on ways Via fits into people's lives.

From October 2 to 5, Starbucks held in-store taste tests to initially launch Via in its stores, rather than at third-party retailers.

The next phase will promote decaffeinated Via, which debuted on November 17. This will be geared toward launching Via in third-party retailers, as well as other global markets.

Kavanaugh says, "What you'll see next from communications is a usage message and really addressing and educating people" on scenarios in which they can use Via, like in busy office situations, traveling, or even cooking.

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