More than Advertisement – IMC Case of Starbucks in China

The competition among retail brands is fierce in the market. The public is claimed to have short and shallow memory, which is to reflect on what is really “impressive” and only within a short time. In the meantime, the public is not loyal any more, as they are facing with too much temptation (Fowler et. al, 2003).  New brands come into the sight continuously with better offerings, and also existing brands are expected to continue attraction by use of active and positive activities. In this case, integrated marketing communication (IMC) plays a role in remaining the competence of brands by delivering adequate messages to the public. Let’s look at the case of Starbucks in China.


China is a fast developing market. Nowadays, urban residents in China have purchase powers for foods and recreation. However, the initial challenge for Starbucks in China is the limited perceived knowledge to coffee. In China, drinks are regarded as a means of resolving thirsty problem. People intended to consider price when purchasing a 50cents coke, not mentioning a $5 Starbucks fresh coffee. Moreover, the lacking of coffee culture and coffee shop culture stops the development of Starbucks in the first years. In this stage, instead of hiring TV advertisement, Starbucks choose radio as the main media (Beattie, 2012). This decision is based on three aspects. Firstly, Starbucks intend to arouse the attention of people who are well educated, self-demanding and pursuing fashion and lifestyle. For radio audience, most of them enjoy music, literature and pop stuff, which are more likely to agree on Starbucks culture. Secondly, radio advertisement provides imagination via voice. People are led by the voice to certain emotion and feeling when they think about coffee and Starbucks. Third, radio is supposed to orient to people with private cars, or taking a taxi, who are considered as target group of owning the purchase power (Fowler et. al, 2003). Here is one of the classic radio advertisement copies in the early stage of launching brand in China.

“Have you ever considered embracing this kind of space in your heart, where there is tasty coffee, slow jazz, warm and yellow light? You can see crowded passengers out of the window, and inside, you are sharing peace and comfort with your dear friends. We are offering you more than a cup of coffee. We know what you want. It is the life, and love to the life. Enjoy the life, your public space, Starbucks.” (Fowler et. al, 2003)

Key messages: coffee, life, sharing, and friends. These words interpret the benefits of coffee shop, and also convert the coffee culture into comfortable imagination.


Later, when more and more people agree on the value of coffee culture, Starbucks are facing with the competition from local coffee shops. Herein, in order to cater for the psychological needs of target group, Starbucks intend to differentiate the brand on magazine media and social media (Han & Zhang, 2009). Both fashion and lifestyle magazines are chosen for delivering the messages. In this stage, apart from representing coffee culture, Starbucks is defined as a special experience and also part of the life.

图片 1

Figure 1: Advertisement of Starbucks (Han & Zhang, 2009).

Key message: Starbucks represents coffee and invents coffee.

图片 2

Figure 2: Advertisement of Starbucks (Han & Zhang, 2009).

Key message: Starbucks represents happiness.

Social media is another important battle for Starbucks to enhance the brand perception and recognition. Social media is able to form word of mouth and enables the company to communicate with the customers directly. In Starbucks weibo (Chinese version twitter), there are more than 1.27 million followers. The weibo posts messages of new products and promotional information (Beattie, 2012). Meanwhile, the membership and public relationship activities are also introduced on the weibo so that the followers are able to learn the updates, forward the posts to friends and communicate with the brand.

图片 3

Figure 3: Weibo of Starbucks (, 2016).






Beattie, A. C. (2012). Can starbucks make china love joe?. Advertising Age.

Fowler, G. A., Singer, J., & Fackler, M. (2003). Converting the masses: starbucks in china.

Han, G., & Zhang, A. (2009). Starbucks is forbidden in the forbidden city: blog, circuit of culture and informal public relations campaign in china.Public Relations Review, 35(4), 395-401.


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