On the corner of Melbourne and Hillhurst in Los Feliz, CA, Dumb Starbucks, a coffee shop that seems to have appeared out of thin air this past weekend, is gaining publicity by handing out free coffee while circumventing trademark laws. Adding the word ‘dumb’ in front of Starbucks Coffee, has allowed the business, which states it is not affiliated with Starbucks, to use the highly recognizable logo of Starbucks as its own. Huh? With my interest piqued, I had to check the place out come hell or high water. Initially, I was only there to observe and take a few pictures, we live in a photo-centric world-so, why not, but the more I observed the more I saw the experience as a social experiment and I wanted to take part. Walking to the end of the line, I questioned my reasoning about why I would stand in a line for free coffee, but the farther I walked to find the end, the more I became committed, especially when the hype slapped my ears: “It is soooooo Banksy” said one fellow line comrade; “It’s art, I want a cup, I bet I can get money for it”; “Yep, it’s Comedy Central, it’s for a show”; I hate Starbucks, this is like a big middle finger to that place”. At first, the theories and speculations kept me entertained, but then after 1.5 hours of being there, I was in a “time invested” dilemma and torn about committing more of my day to this enigma of a cafe. The sun’s heat was beginning to extract small drops of sweat from within my dehydrated body, but for some reason I, along with those standing next to me, had to get into the store and see it for ourselves. Inside was an exact replica of a Starbucks store. The only exception was the word “Dumb” placed in front of everything; it was ballsy and people appeared to appreciate the statement made by this business/art installation. The slow-moving line now made sense, I could only see two barista working and one had mentally checked out of the experience. Finally! I had reached my end point and placed my order. The process was very similar to the Starbucks experience (except free) and on the way out I picked up a FAQ from Dumb Starbucks explaining the stunt. My take away was one free coffee, a chance to hear contradicting frustrations of people complaining about a corporation like Starbucks and a brief introduction into parody law. By adding the word “dumb”, the cafe is technically “making fun” of Starbucks, which allows the business to use the Starbucks trademark under the ‘fair use’ law. Dumb Starbucks was within its legal rights to use copyrighted material in a parodical work without permission from the rights holder. Until we find out the true intention behind this, I tip my invisible hat to the parody and in terms of publicity was this a front? Was Starbucks behind this to draw attention to its brand with self-deprecating humor? Good or bad is free publicity a good thing for Starbucks? Remember Weird Al Yankovic’s “Eat It”? So, anyone interested in buying a cup?
UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon, Comedy Central comedian Nathan Fielder revealed he was behind the parody Dumb Starbucks store in Los Angeles.