As a general rule, jacking another business' name to jump-start your own get-rich quick scheme isn’t the best way to strike gold. But rules are meant to be broken, and it was through just such an act of subversion that Dumb Starbucks enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame.
The evolution of a dumb idea
It was no ordinary day for a small and unadorned strip mall on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles—the kind of place that had seen better days. Nestled among some palm trees in the city's Los Feliz neighborhood, it boasted a nail salon and a coin operated laundry joint as its prized establishments. Like many such spots in the age of e-commerce, this place looked poised to take the last exit to relevance.
But that all changed February 7 with the grand debut of Dumb Starbucks, a store that resembled Starbucks in every way except for the addition of the word "Dumb" to every product sold. That's right - while waiting for their Dumb Chai Tea Latte, customers could browse the CD selection and decide whether Dumb Taste of Cuba or Dumb Nora Jones better satisfied their commuting needs.
Despite having no background in business management, the store's founder Nathan Fielder immediately showed signs of being a unified communications master, harnessing Twitter to get the word out about his business. In the first 12 days, the store's inaugural tweet was retweeted almost 1,000 times. And despite only tweeting a total of eight times, the account has already accumulated nearly 16,000 followers. For businesses shelling out lots of money on ad campaigns, the fact that Fielder did his on a free social media platform should point to the fact that in the enterprise world, sometimes creativity can still outpace capital.
A fool-proof business plan
It is worth noting that Fielder is, in fact, a comedian, and that, from the beginning, speculation ran rampant that the supposed store was actually some kind of artistic publicity stunt. You know, like Shia Labeouf crying under a paper bag. But stunt or not, Fielder went to great lengths to ensure that his store (or art installation, or whatever it was) remained open.
In the one and only video posted from Dumb Starbucks' YouTube account, Fielder says that, "By adding the word 'dumb,' we are legally allowed to use the coveted Starbucks name and logo because we've fulfilled the minimum requirements to be considered a parody under U.S. law."
And despite acknowledging his day job as a comedian, Fielder assured viewers that the store was no hoax, and in fact represented "a real business I plan to get rich from."
Alas, Fielder will have to search elsewhere for his riches, since shortly after the store opened, dumb health board personnel showed up and shut it down for selling coffee without a permit, he told Jimmy Kimmel, as he presented him with a plastic box of department store croissants he claimed were Dumb originals. Yet Fielder sees this as a miscarriage of justice, since according to him, his operation was an art gallery, which would preclude them from falling into the jurisdiction of retail laws. But it is not Jimmy Kimmel he'll have to convince - it's the judge who could be sending him to the slammer for up to six months, according to the National Post. Geez, talk about no sense of humor.
For its part, the real Starbucks chose the path of least involvement, with a company spokeswoman telling Sky News that it was "evaluating next steps," but adding in the same sentence that "we appreciate the humor."
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