July 23, 2007 by Colin
It’s not breaking news that Starbucks is leaving its location inside the Forbidden City. The decision was driven, to a large degree, by the opposition stirred up by Rui Chenggang. His persistent criticism eventually resulted in a 500,000 signature petition for the franchise to leave the UNESCO World Heritage site.
But how could Starbucks avoid stoking a growing popular unrest without undermining the popularity of the other 170-odd franchises across the country?
Make it a logical and easily understandable corporate decision: avoiding the dilution of the brand.
“There were several choices, one of which was to continue, but it would not carry the Starbucks name any more,” [Eden Woon, VP for Greater China] said. “We decided at the end that it is not our custom worldwide to have stores that have any other name, so therefore we decided the choice would be to leave.” (AP )
Really, who would want to buy Starbucks coffee that’s been co-branded as “Palace Museum” – the corporate brand planned for the other facilities in the City.
The Economist rightly points out that Rui Chenggang is no mere blogger. He’s an anchor for China Central Television. He has an international reputation, including speaking experience in Europe and across Asia.
His discussion of Starbuck’s presence in the Forbidden City was supported by other government-owned media (not really a rarity in China). Even if there was occasional criticism of his stance, particularly in more entrepreneurial Shanghai, it’s an indication that the government was at least silently supportive of the criticism.
It doesn’t hurt that Chenggang’s argument ultimately made perfect sense, even if Starbucks had existed inside the Forbidden City for nearly seven years:
“I was having lunch with an Indian person today, and I said, ‘Would you Indians allow a Starbucks to be inside the Taj Mahal?’ And he said, ‘No, of course not, we would never let that happen.’ “The Forbidden City,” Rui added, “is not an airport.”(LA Times)
Let’s leave the final word to Eden Woon, the VP from Starbucks:
“Never forget the core values and the characteristics that make your brand famous in your home country or elsewhere globally, but always be flexible to adapt to the special Chinese environment.” (China CSR)
[tags] Starbucks, Forbidden City, Chenggang, UNESCO, World Heritage Site [/tags]