Did you hear the one about the Bob who stood at the pearly gates and admitted he hadn’t called before he dug? Bob also hits a fine ball on the green and knows the easy way to buy office stationary. Bob’s an expert eco-friendly investor, an authority on long-distance calls, and works part-time as an accountant. Busy guy, our palindrome friend. Or is he an acronym?  

As busy as the copywriter behind all of these radio commercials? Or are you telling me there’s some sort of secret Bob contract that ALL copywriters in every Canadian ad shop have to sign up to? Whatever their intention, by blending the name of every character in every ad, from insurance choices to the right sports brand, into a patchwork Bob, they are distracting from the product or service they are supposed to be promoting. Our Bob brand may have started as a bit of a bet around the coffee pot (highest Bob score in any given commercial break wins), but it appears the tables are turning. A few cases of inverse distraction to pay homage to your regular Bob on the street and what happens? Clients start insisting on hiring the infamous Bob to star in their 30” radio spots. 

Inevitably all the bobbing around is leaving the paying brands high and dry. Whatever will they do next to not make their marque stand out from the crowd?

As I was saying, there’s something to be said for the smoke-free environment of Starbucks in Germany, despite Janice Turner’s rather fun-to-read post. While she does have a point about great German coffee, it comes at the price of service without a smile and a fog of cloud and none of those comfy seats.

What I can’t believe about Starbucks is that they’re turning the whole experiential thing into a cheap commodity to vie for some of the lower-end market space. Is there nothing sacred? If I wanted a swig of black I could try any one of a thousand outlets and regret the $1 option.

On the subject of price, it is true that Caffé Nero in the UK offers a stronger brew for less dough, but I’d argue that was to compensate for its nicotine environment, at least until the smoking ban came into effect last year. That’s the real difference between Brits and Germans – never mind that it’s law, a ban on smoking in public places just isn’t taken seriously in Germany, where not even the police are enforcing a penalty if they catch you smoking.

Grouse Mountain, our local ski slope on the North Shore, has opened for business, so it’s officially time to get with the white. How appropriate for the heavens to open on the same weekend and sugar-sprinkle our lawns so that we can quickly try out the Snow Elephant – it  can be done, with plenty of Frappuccinos to get you in the size. 

How charming to see the iced peaks outlining Vancouver when the clouds roll aside. I am assured the view will soon be even better. Half a century on, Vancouver’s last giant rooftop billboard is finally heading south. Erected long before skyline restrictions were in place, the 4-decade old battle to de-clutter our resplendent view has reached a costly closure: deconstruction costs are set to cleanly wipe out all advertising revenue in one fell swoop. Never mind that building heights have continually inched up, and the city’s Skyline Study informs us that Vancouver’s flat (no British pun intended) skyline would benefit from a splash of buildings to exceed current height limits and provide a more contemporary vista. All the while augmenting those protected corridors of view of our natural North Shore beauties.

Cool. Or should I say sweet?

The new season of red products at Starbucks no longer portray both US and Canadian $ prices. Smart move, that. Here’s another move: 

When I saw – for the first time – outdoor advertising for Starbucks last year (seasonal beverages in Vancouver), I was surprised that the marketers at the green mermaid had shifted their mix to pedestrian advertising. At the time I guessed it was a local, cultural thing, and parked it for future reference. Now, however, a blitz of seasonal TV ads is about to hit national screens, initially in the US. Wieden & Kennedy, the agency that transported those other west coast Americana brands Nike and Microsoft around the world, is tasked with developing a global brand message for the red cup parade. As quoted in today’s Advertising Age, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz feels the whole advertising thing is a natural evolution to gain increased leverage. Oh well then. Certainly as the brand reaches maturity, markets saturate, share prices fall and competitors step in to cross the chasm, Starbucks feels the heat to reinvent itself, its offering, or its target audience. Does this herald a mermaid branded burger? 

Personally I feel that Starbucks would be well advised to offer free wifi in its stores. This may not induce users to double up on their caffeine intake, but it would certainly fill the seats and send out the signal to open another Starbucks just over the road.

After yesterday’s successful premonition of doom and gales, woke up to third power outage of the season and spent entire day wifi-hopping from one Blenz to another. Highly annoying that many of the other 190,000 or so individuals without power were also dodging 90 kph winds and falling trees on the same elbow-grinding rampage to find a vacant socket & seat, while grin and bearing the beverages and empty calorie leftovers. Even so, my email inbox was unusually quiet, with not even the double-barrelled spam’ers seeming to have much luck with the climate. Now there’s a thought: are spam’ers eligible for public holidays? Are any of us entitled to reclaim a public holiday when storms and downed electricity cables wreck havoc with our plans for the day? Do those companies that give employees the freedom to take Remembrance Day as a holiday or put it towards the year-end celebrations also allow their employees to take today as a storm day? Do BC Hydro power fixers earn holiday overtime to clear the debris, and is this all part of a bigger conspiracy? What of all those Federal public warnings to stock up on water, mini generators and spare batteries? Are we about to face a winter of more than soap opera discontent? Better grind those coffee beans…

Arriving at Düsseldorf airport earlier in the week, I was dismayed by the wall of smoke that hit me just beyond customs. The abundance of “no smoking” signs did nothing to keep the lingering clouds from neighbouring smoking areas at bay. A short course in chemistry might have clarified that clean air and smoky vapours are not, actually, immiscible! Little glass ashtrays at every café left me in no doubt – I had to find a Starbucks: surely their world-wide no-smoking policy would find no exception in Germany? Luckily, the tree-top venue of my first Starbucks experience in this marketplace turned out to be a good one. A Doppio to fend off the sleep and a lofty view over the airport comings and goings to set the mood for the rest of the day.

In Hamburg, a few hours later, I was dismayed to find not a single bar or café signed up to the August 2007 non-smoking policy (this wasn’t, after all, Baden-Württemberg or Niedersachsen). Don’t they know that smoke adulterates the coffee aroma, to say nothing of making my eyes water and my clothes stink? They didn’t think my comments funny, so – despite the jet-lag-fatigue grinding me down – I chose not to bother with their wares. Note to self: must carry more chocolate-covered espresso beans for emergencies.

So I have this friend who finds himself the recipient of Starbucks mugs from all over the world, while openly admitting about the coffee that he “can’t stand the stuff”. You proudly display a single mermaid, and – as if by magic – she multiplies every time a friend or colleague goes on holiday to some far flung destination. (That’s almost as mocking as the little town of Starbuck in Minnesota, which boasts two eateries and one speciality coffee shop, but there’s not a mermaid in sight.)

Why yes, Thomas, they do make Vancouver mugs (marketing is marketing, after all), and no, Thomas, you will not be getting one from Nikolaus – it’ll be a Rute for you, my friend!

This isn’t a hailstorm, it’s tipping white Frappuccinos® from a dismal Vancouver sky. Time to retreat with my new book (courtesy of Thea, Herman & Chicago airport), “How Starbucks Saved My Life”, by ex advertising man ‘Mike’ G. Gill. 
Annoyingly, the book has only been out for two weeks, but already there are g-80000-oogle links to it and next year’s movie (to star Tom Hanks). Talk about clogging up the blogging. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the new insights the barista is revealing, even if they’re more than squeaky-clean so far.

Will it affect the current shift of 25% of coffee shares to the golden arches, I wonder? Bearing in mind that by far the biggest chunk of the green mermaid’s revenue comes from the espresso bar, not from the coffee-drip, and that McDonald’s, after successfully launching premium coffee, are now on the verge of introducing cappuccinos and lattes, I fear it will take more than a self-glorifying book to turn things around. Even if the world is clearly in the palm of their combined hands. Time to down one of those 400 billion cups that make the world go round every year …

Ah, parity! A struggle, spanning three decades – and one which no-one south of the border was probably even aware of, finally sees the Canadian loonie on an equal footing with the US greenback. Up north, however, it feels like Canada has finally won a round of Monopoly, and there’d be a big street party to celebrate – if it wasn’t for the rain. But hey, we can all nip over the border and buy cheap stuff even more cheaply. We’d have to, as retailers here (and who can blame them?) aren’t budging on the cover prices for items such as books and magazines, which display a much lower US$ price than is – today – realistic. Is that why there are so many more “for sale” bins at Starbucks these days, for all those mugs and candies and cuddly toys with last season’s ticket prices?