Have you heard of a fellow named Tommy Habeeb? Mr. Habeeb has created a new product called the BabySport Water Bottle Nipple Adaptor, a little plastic nipple gizmo that screws on to the top of a regular water bottle so that a baby can drink it. It’s summer, it’s hot, these things are selling like hotcakes and everyone’s happy.

I thought of this guy when I saw MSNBC’s report this week on Starbucks’ plans to develop products specifically intended for the kids who frequent the company’s stores. My only thought was, “Genius, as usual.” But MSNBC’s spin would have made a viewer think that the evil Starbucks intended to use Habeeb’s invention to nurse infants with 670-calorie coffee drinks* – and more than once a day. Actually, the kid in this picture does seem to be struggling with the adult lid a bit… I’m kidding, I’m kidding!

stephanie_fierman_kid-at-starbucks.jpg

MSNBC leveraged Starbucks’ announcement to write the company into the fast-food child obesity epidemic trend story that has garnered so much attention in the last couple years. I think that’s over the top. Granted, this is not an altruistic move by Starbucks, but then again no one’s ever claimed that Starbucks is a not-for-profit. While active in many social areas, the company sees a new opportunity and it’s going to pursue it. Likewise, these corporate baristas are savvy enough to assume that perhaps it was just a matter of time before the food police would turn their attention to after-school frappuccinos with whipped cream, so the company proactively moved to position itself in a more positive light. They make more money, we think of them as offering healthy (healthier?) choices, everybody wins.

*Yawn*

It’s far more compelling to package this non-event as Motley Fool has, sounding the alarm by warning that “heavy-handed marketing to kids can open up an ugly can of worms” with the example of what happened to Reynolds Tobacco when it got caught promoting Camel cigarettes to children. Comparing Starbucks (with hot chocolate, juices, waters, etc. already available) to cigarettes? For Starbucks’ marketers and product folks, talk about “no good deed goes unpunished…”

I’ll end with some of MSNBC’s own viewers’ representative comments on the network’s website. They are hilarious and spot-on (I’ve edited for length and grammar):
mel-wags22: My boys will often get up early on a Saturday morning and we’ll go, get drinks and spend an hour just sitting in the store talking about our week. It’s good family time. If some moron wants to feed their 4 year old, double shot lattes, that’s their problem! 3Under3: As an occasional part of the late-morning stay-at-home-mom rush, I don’t have a problem with the basic kids’ drink menu of steamed milk, hot chocolate or steamed cider, and the bottled drinks, like the organic milk are good… A child who is getting a good diet at home, should be able to handle a treat sometimes without risking obesity. sweetshoppelover: This has become another non-issue perpetrated by the food police. Who are these people? My age group remembers going to the neighborhood candy store, by ourselves, to get malted milks or ice cream sodas. As for over-caffeinated teens – as I remember, that was one of the safer dumb things to do as a teenager!GreginTexas: We all know that the next step, if we allow children to overrun Starbucks, is kids in strip clubs and kids at adult book stores and kids buying alcoholic beverages at 7-11 for their kindergarten class pre-nap breaks. WHEN does this insanity end?
Agree, disagree? How much responsibility does a marketer like Starbucks – who certainly began by selling an adult drink to adult customers – have for protecting kids, beyond what they are doing today? Let me know what you think.

* Note: A vente-sized, double chocolate chip blended crème frappuccino with whipped cream contains 670 calories, including 200 fat calories and 12g of saturated fat. I picked it for effect as the wackiest gut-buster on Starbucks’ website I could find.

 

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