How does a seemingly ubiquitous entity touting change and social responsibility become known as an elitist, foreign-speaking pseudo-intellectual completely out of touch with the general public?
For Starbucks, it starts with an opponent so hungry for a victory that it is willing to label its own supporters as knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, gender-stereotyped poseurs who are exhausted from soaking up culture with their cappuccino. McDonald's has caffeinated its campaign against Starbucks with a high-octane accusation usually reserved for New Jersey diner coffee talk: "You think you're better than me?"
Within the last month, the folks beneath the Golden Arches have centered their negative coffee campaigning around two gender-specific ads entitled "The Intellectuals." In the first installment, which makes Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy Girl" ad look like a Peanuts holiday special, two women sitting in an unnamed coffee house are so relieved to hear that McDonald's is serving lattes that they slowly untangle the web of lies that is their existence. Apparently, their love of caramel macchiatos had cost them the ability to read gossip magazines, wear heels, watch television and freely admit to others that they don't know or care about foreign languages or countries.
Poseur No. 1: "I don't know where Paraguay is!" No. 2: "Paraguay?"
Notice the moment right around the 37th second when one woman casts off her shackles of oppression by throwing a book over her shoulder and, seemingly, into a fireplace. Vive la resistance! No, I'm sorry, "Fuck yeah, resistance!" These women don't want to knuckle under to those evil bastards who'll force them to listen to Bob Dylan records or "jazz." In their minds, such places just want to repress you and make you feel bad about made-up places like "Paraguay" so you'll buy "fair trade" coffee they say gives farmers a larger percent of the profits. Puh-lease! They know how much a thing of Folgers costs and are just a little sick of women who wouldn't know how to show off a set of knockout gams if Betty Grable walked into the room and gave them a lesson.
Not content with pouring a steaming cup of java into the laps of empowered women and Ronald McDonald Scholarship recipients everywhere, McDonald's set its sights on their male counterparts. The gents' critique is based more in aesthetics, as the McLiberated guys take self-ameliorating jabs at the goatees, turtlenecks and fake glasses that they were using in an apparent attempt to slip roofies into some unsuspecting barista's Americano.
The lesson to be learned here, men of America, is that Starbucks is out to neuter you. They want to strip you of your football, hot cars, meat, beer, Will Ferrell movies and rock music and force you to watch Vicki Cristina Barcelona until you develop a fondness for The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and a crush on Diane Keaton. If McDonald's comes off as a bit anti-intellectual for claiming that men don't have the mental capacity to enjoy films and football at the same time, it's only doing so out of a sense of self-preservation.
Bookish, coffee quaffing eggheads such as "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser and "Super Size Me" director Morgan Spurlock have been causing McDonald's quite a bit of grief lately. Between Schlosser's assertion that Ronald McDonald doesn't give a damn about his workers or the children he's inflating with high fructose corn syrup and Spurlock's nausea-inducing documentary that resulted in the artery-choked death of super sizing, Mickey D's reasons for shooing America's men off to their fantasy football leagues and fall fashion outings at Sears appear understandable.
Also valid are the reasons McDonald's seems to believe its customers are George Romero-style zombies too hungry and brainless to know they're being called idiots. This is the same company that both lost a high-profile, $2.86 million lawsuit ($640,000 on appeal) that led to warning labels on every cup of its coffee and, just last week, witnessed CNN equate the $700 billion economic bailout bill to "2,000 McDonald's apple pies" for every American. None of this bodes well for Mensa applications from McDonaldland.
Though McDonald's has made the harshest statement in the corporate coffee class war thus far, it wasn't the first. Even before Starbucks closed 600 stores and laid off 1,000 employees in July, Dunkin Donuts took the opportunity to mock the Starbucks sizing system as a language it refers to as "Fritalian." It would seem that ad teams that fail to grasp "grande" or "venti" also find irony elusive. While Coen Brothers go-to-guy and cinematic everyman John Goodman noted that competing Dunkin' Donuts lattes were ordered "in English," he left it to the audience to figure out that latte is an Italian word. Also, the "Fritalian" anthem is being sung by They Might Be Giants, a band that centered its last album for adults around the single "The Mesopotamians," which re-imagines ancient Middle Eastern kings Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh as a touring band. Such commercial numbskullery is much easier to swallow when you're aware that, if the the language existed, the band singing about it just might write a whole album in Fritalian.
That the class debate has spread from coffee is of somewhat greater concern. Microsoft's latest commercials lambaste Apple for daring to say its users are somewhat hipper than a competitor with roughly quadruple its computer market share. You'd expect this kind of reaction from Miller High Life, whose deliverymen yank the "Champagne of Beers" out of every bistro in America in its ads, but from Bill Gates? In a way, Gates and McDonald's get it, and it's killing them. Apple and Starbucks aren't exactly mom-and-pop shops and don't have the philanthropic reach of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Ronald McDonald House, yet they're still treated like rock stars while McDonald's and Microsoft are the old couple who come home to nothing but grief. "Stop being a monopoly, stop making us fat." Bitch, bitch bitch.
By lashing out, they let loose that inner voice that says "coffee and iPods can't make you more artistic, creative or well-educated!" No, but your competitors can embrace those qualities in their customers and reap the financial and social benefits while you throw your tantrum.
"You think you're better than me?" Absolutely, and I'm lovin' it.