Do Brands Have Birthdays?

This morning in SoHo, a young woman ordered a coffee. She happily paid the cashier and stepped to the side to wait.

The well-oiled machine was functioning at full tilt this morning. Milk steaming, beans grinding all while music you may vaguely like plays over the speakers. But like any manufacturing process, no matter how efficient, there will be the occasional slip up. This morning, that lemon belonged to the young woman who was so patiently waiting for her cup of nectar.

But today, she wouldn’t get mad.

“I’m so, so, sorry,” the barista said “I’ll fix this right away.”

“No, don’t worry,” the young woman replied, “It’s your birthday!”

The barista looked surprised, but not so surprised as to begrudge the break she had been given, and quickly prepared the appropriate size and blend. In under a minute the woman who ordered a coffee had the correct drink in her hand.

“Sorry, again,” the barista said, “Grande Soy Americano, have a great day.”

“Thanks, don’t worry about it.” The woman said with a smile “And happy birthday!” She took her coffee and walked out the door.

Incase you were wondering, the coffee shop in question is Starbucks. And yes, this really happened. They are celebrating their 40th birthday with lots of balloons and a special Birthday Blend. Quite the to-do. The word choice, though, should not be overlooked. It probably has a lot to do with the above woman’s reaction to the barista’s gaffe. Starbucks isn’t celebrating their 40th anniversary, they are celebrating their birthday. A word that literally refers to the birth of a living being, is being celebrated by a brand. Now, this is not entirely new territory, other brands have had birthdays. But the significance of a birthday, of a brand and company adopting language previously reserved for living breathing entities, is huge. This woman, who seemed to be in a rush in so far as anyone is on their way to work, couldn’t get mad at someone on their birthday. That would be rude, and insensitive. Instead, she gladly accepted the error, brushed it off, and wished the company well.

If becoming more human, as a brand, brings with it the social conventions of day-to-day human interactions, what does that mean for business? What do you do if a brand gets sick, has a bad day, loses a loved one? Do you write a get well letter, cheer it up, or mourn its loss? Tough to say, but just incase, and to be cordial, Happy Birthday Starbucks! You don’t look a day over 29.

Written by Joey Camire Photo via