Cultural icons as a brand: Starbucks in the Forbidden City revisited

Back in January, I wrote about Starbucks’ unwelcome presence in the Forbidden City. Just yesterday, NPR’s Morning Edition did an interview with the man who gave the cause an extra jolt of caffeine – CCTV TV anchor Rui Chenggang. Steve Inskeep interviews Rui about the “invasion”. Rui explains:

People do need a place to buy souvenirs, people do need a place to rest. But, you know, if you are in the Forbidden City, you see people walking around with all these white cups with the big Starbucks logo on it, it’s obscene to me.

Inskeep asks what it is about this brand that makes it offensive and here’s his response:

First of all, we’re not singling Starbucks out. I think Forbidden City is a single brand. We should keep the integrity of that brand. I don’t think a Chinese teahouse brand…that would be equally unacceptable to me.

Note Rui’s remark that the “Forbidden City is a single brand”. In the business/marketing world, it’s easy to forget that branding goes beyond corporate identity. Cultural icons and historical sites have their own story/associations/ideas, just as a corporate brand does. Except, they’ve been around a lot longer — and mean that much more to the Chinese people.

Now Starbucks will have to bear another brand – imperialistic invader.

Apparently, Starbucks upper management is taking notice of this, among other things, as NPR also reports on how Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz believes the company is losing its soul.

Coffee anyone? 😉

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.