Last week Starbucks' ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, quit the Starbucks account. As you can imagine, it's pretty fucking rare for something like that to happen, especially with a company of that scale. At the time, the agency just mumbled something about how it was "time to move on." But now the truth has come out: Starbucks is a notorious headache. Thanks largely to "mercurial" CEO Howard Schultz. Wieden & Kennedy (also behind this Nike campaign, incidentally) spent four long years working for Starbucks, and, according to an excellent Ad Age story today, none of that time was particularly happy. But Schultz was pals with Wieden's founder, so it went on and on. The conflict can be read either as a case of a prima donna client, OR the case of prima donna ad agencies not feeling "appreciated" for their brilliance:
"Wieden always felt like it was a one-way relationship," said an executive familiar with the matter. "They felt like they presented a way to drive the brand forward, and Starbucks wasn't receptive."... Other agencies that have worked with Starbucks have felt frustration with the marketer too. Rich Silverstein, co-founder of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which did two stints representing Starbucks, said much of the fault lies with the mercurial Mr. Schultz. "He does not appreciate advertising," he said. "Any agency that comes in has one foot out the door already."
"Wah wah" would be the knee-jerk reaction to this—but keep in mind that it must have been actually really bad in order for an agency to walk away from an account of this magnitude.
Unrest at Starbucks is hardly new. The company has been described as a difficult client for many years. It's infamous for greenlighting projects and later withdrawing approval. For instance, the chain made its TV-advertising debut during the last holiday season, but a broadcast campaign had been under way at least once before.
Oh well. Starbucks has never had a truly great ad campaign, anyhow. Can you name one? I can't. So it's probably no great loss on either side. Starbucks is in a bad place, with the economy how it is, and no ad agency will be able to stop that. Anyhow, Starbucks needs to focus on its hand herpes problem first. [Ad Age]