The Great Coffee Marketing Mistake

April 22, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

I am currently chilling at The Ugly Mug in Santa Cruz for a day of thinking and catching up at work.

the ugly mug logo

I am not sure if this is intentional but every hour or so the coffee makers aka baristas accidentally make a fancy drink and give it away to a patron. Think about how great that is? Is that intentional? Questionable…

Starbucks offers samples of new drinks every few hours but think of accidentally giving away free new drinks to patrons. Pure genius. Fun. Simple. Unexpected gifts are DEFINITELY the best!

As well, I have noticed a new marketing trend to criticize yourself. The Ugly Mug does a great job on their website saying Reasons NOT to come to Ugly Mug:

  • If you like cheap, burned, under roasted, or otherwise terrible tasting coffee.
  • If you like a bland atmosphere
  • If you love disgruntled workers
  • If great service just isn’t your thing

How did it come to the point where we expect crappy service at restaurants and cafes?1

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14 responses to “The Great Coffee Marketing Mistake

  1. marc Reply

    I love marketing messages that (smartly) break the “rules.” How many times have you heard marketing gurus say, “Don’t be negative”? And they took that law to mean, “Don’t put a negative thought in their heads…don’t use the word “no” or “bad” or etc.”

    As for random acts of kindness from restaurants … I’m all for it. Reminds me of a “dive-y” sushi spot in North Hollywood. Spin the wheel for a free spicy tuna roll… if the spot-light lands on you…you’re a winner!

  2. KR Reply

    this is an interesting post in many ways. my first thought is that if in one setting noah can determine the shop is not just “accident” prone, i am guessing other regular customers of the ugly mug know this to be the case too. i think that having it as a giveaway for a lucky patron instead of a “opps, here’s a free drink dude” is better. its a little lame to be tricked into a serendipidous event.

    secondly, although i can see why people have a backlash against starbucks (i am guessing that was the ugly mug’s primary target), i can tell you that the customer service is generally very good at any of the starbucks i have been too. howard schultz is a pretty amazing dude and has done a ton for excellent causes: health care and stock options for all employees and higher pay for farms that produce starbucks beans to name a few. additionally, without starbucks, the gourmet coffee trend would not be near as huge for starbucks, pete’s and the independents, but i digress.

    to answer the actual question though, i am not sure that customer service is getting worse. customer review sites like yelp are going to change this dynamic even more in favor of the consumer. i talk with restaurant owners (mainly independents) on a regular basis for my business. the majority of them (80% or so) are very cool and consciencious about their customer service. (not sure if their staff is as good though). the other 20% are pretty much jerks, and their staff is lame as well. there is certainly some language and cultural barriers to the customer service issue. the majority of restaurants in the bay area are owned and staffed by non-native english speakers.

  3. rik Reply

    Noah, I think we have come to that because MOST places now are like Mcdonalds or BK’s, where the emphasis is on speed, not service. The fact that we now expect more service has to do with our entire society moving up higher into the Maslow scheme. It’s a cultural, and trend-related thing, right?
    That said, the one thing that struck me about the MUG website, is that their ‘value proposition’ ( is surpisingly like that of Starbucks… didn’t they start the whole ‘third place’ idea?

  4. j.d.a. Reply

    Good post Noah. Maybe it doesn’t happen to you, but Chipotle nearly always accidentally gives me free guacamole on my burritos – just one more reason I love the place.

    What I can’t figure out about Coffee Shops is why they are just about the only business not giving out free travel mugs – but that’s another post for another time.

  5. Joe Budde Reply

    I would kill to get free guac on my burrito.

    I always get upset on the flip side when they charge me a buck and a half for some green goo.

  6. Michael Morisy Reply

    I have a half-written e-mail in my box to you that recounts a very similar happening at my local coffee shop.

    I was in a huge rush to a meeting, After getting the coffee, the woman looked at me and smiled, saying “You’re all set.” At this, my irritations grows: Yeah, I know, now how much does it all cost?

    “How much?”

    She then explains that she’s allowed to give out free coffee 6 times a day to people she wants to give it to. Oops … Did I feel bad for getting irritated.

    The next day, same situation when I went to Verizon: I wait in line for 20 minutes, then I’m told they don’t have the part. I ask how long it’ll take to order an (overpriced) replacement. The guy looks at me hard for a minute, and wanders into the back. While he’s back there, I’m fuming: I pay a $100 a month and now I have to pay another fifty to wait a week for a 10 dollar part.

    “Christmas came early man, we have a spare in the back.”

    Fastest mood change I’ve had in a while, and I got to walk out of the store with a free part! Cost verizon a little (a refurbished part without packaging) but made me a MUCH happier customer.

  7. Noah Kagan Reply


    Great stuff. It is funny how random acts of kindness can do so much.

    I am not sure if this act was intentional or accidental but it was great. I really appreciated the coffee store and wanted to spend more money there. I wonder how long you remember or really talk about getting free things. It seems like Michael remembers his for a little while.

  8. Noah Kagan Reply

    Honestly I don’t mind Starbucks. I think we all forget that people are people. We all bleed, poop, sleep and more. The question to wonder is how/why different people work differently at different locations. Or it could be about hiring certain types of people at different establishments? Or it could be about writing differently so many times;)

    I like some people at Starbucks, I like some people at indie-coffee shops but I don’t like the guy who has “Anti-Capitalist” tattooed on his arm at local Mountain View coffee store when he works in a capatlistic store. Makes no sense!

  9. Jason H. Reply

    I totally agree with you that Howard Schultz is a pretty amazing dude and has done a ton for excellent causes 🙂 I don’t understand why there are so many Starbucks bashers out there…

    Noah, here is an idea for you, why don’t you try to do an interview (email or in-person) with the owner or baristas of the Ugly Mug on the shop’s marketing inspirations–just tell him or her that you’re a famous blogger…

  10. Damon Billian Reply

    “How did it come to the point where we expect crappy service at restaurants and cafes?”

    Generally speaking, employees that earn lower wages are probably more inclined to deliver less than stellar customer service. Employees of Starbucks, at least IMHO, probably provide decent service because of the relatively generous salaries & benefits they receive (at least compared to other establishments).

    My other favoritely named Santa Cruz establishment: The Hairy Chair (haircuts).

  11. Jason Reply

    Well crap. I have already had chiptole 3 times this week and now after reading this I want another.

    I like how chipotle gives away from drinks if you have a college id- I am holding on to that bad boy for as long as possible. Still has my picture on it for 5 years ago 😉