The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Perks of Being a Coffee Seller - Star Box

"Coffee Cat" was the punny headline that caught reader Chris Ellins's (Westminster Law School) eye. Chris wrote in to let us know that something was brewing in Swiss Cottage. In a Doppio-and-Goliath fight, Doppio had lost. Yes, a coffee kiosk named "Star Box" was being forced to change its name following action by the coffee giant Starbucks. After the fight, there were grounds on the ground.

Looking under the lid of the matter, there are some interesting twists. According to the Camden New Journal, Nasser Kamali, the owner of the Camden Star Box, named his coffee kiosk in honour of Marxism, “I do believe in Marxism and that is very important to me. That is why I had the red star logo on my stickers. I am in a box. It’s my red, star box.” Alas, this got Kamali into hot water with a global multinational corporation, and in the name of keeping its brand strong, Starbucks requested he no longer use "Star" and change his logo (which contains a red star). Kamali has complied.

Photo by benho.sg
The case has attracted a latte of international attention. The Daily Mail noted Kamali's refusal of a £300 goodwill payment from Starbucks. Even Fox News has it covered, and includes a series of reader comments dissecting the role of Marxism and American politics in downfall of Star Box.

Yet "Star Box" itself is not original. Oddly enough, this Kat has history with Star Box, and Starbucks. Her coffee roots go back to high school in the 90s in Washington State, when having a bumper sticker that said, "I drive espresso because I am latte" was considered cool, and Starbucks was a local business with less than 150 stores.  The mermaid logo was only partially clothed.

Fast forward to 2007, and now both a coffee and an IP fan, this Kat was delighted when she came across "Star Box" in Teheran, Iran. She sent a photo to IP Professor Susan Scafidi's Counterfeit Chic blog.  It then got picked up in 2008 in an Iranian forum, again in 2010, hit Reddit in 2011, made it to Buzzfeed in 2014 and NewsDay in August 2015. The image is currently on at least 30 websites, all pointing to the amusing similarities with Starbucks."Star Box" clearly has brand appeal.  Curiously, Kamali is Iranian, perhaps this Kat's photo caught his eye? [Merpel would also like to note that the Katonomist now uses this story in lecturers to demonstrate how digital content is often copied without attribution or incorrectly attributed.] 
Buzzfeed screen shot, Photo 
incorrectly attributed to Reddit

While this make look like a heated and strong debate, the distilled version is simply large brand versus small brand. This Kat has previously written about the interaction between lookalikes and brands. It's hard to imagine any of Star Box's London customers mistook the kiosk for Starbucks. Using a homonym of Starbucks is useful for attracting attention, and Star Box has benefitted Kamali, both in current new coverage and customer appeal. Starbucks's pursuit of Star Box may have some negative impact on the Starbucks brand, but could have deterrent effects. The public pursuit of Star Box could dissuade lookalike brands, which may save Starbucks potential legal costs - assuming that legal action is necessary. However, the pursuit of lookalike brands for such a dominant global brand is questionable, and Starbucks recently lost a case to a small coffee roaster named Charbucks.  The economic impact is unclear.

And now, for gratuitous conspiracy theories. Could this be the start of a global political takedown of American capitalism - starting with the tarnishment of coffee brands? Is Big Tech making "tarnishment" autocorrect "garnishment" to annoy human beings whose jobs will be replaced with machines?

However, Kamali isn't wasting time over spilled milk - he's back to selling coffee.

3 comments:

Jeff Trexler said...

What a fascinating Katonomical tale! Your photo has had quite a journey of its own.

Puzzled said...

I wonder why my comment was deleted - my question is genuine: what is the point of this post? Thank you (and, please, accept criticism)

Nicola Searle said...

Puzzled - Your previous comment, "Nice post but..what point are you trying to make??" contravened our comments policy. Our policy requires that comments make a constructive contribution.

Apologies for not appreciating you were genuinely trying to provide feedback. Could you please be more specific?

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