You might have heard of the parody coffee shop (or should I say art gallery?) that Nathan Fielder opened in Los Angeles, California. Fielder called his shop Dumb Starbucks, and his parody business of the mega coffee chain burst into the international spotlight within a matter of hours.
Fielder was relatively well known before this espresso-fueled endeavor for his career as an actor and as a stand-up comedian. Audiences recognize him from his show on Comedy Central, Nathan For You, a docu-reality comedy series that began airing in 2013.
Dumb Starbucks opened in February of 2014, and initially Fielder didn’t reveal that he was the one behind it. Starbucks, a globe superpower in the realm of all things coffee, has a reputation for suing anyone that infringes on their trademarks. Fielder sought legal counsel to familiarize himself with the parody law that allowed him to pursue Dumb Starbucks. Basically, the parody law grants the ability to use copyrighted material and trademarks on the grounds that the people employing the law are making fun of brand that they are replicating. Under the parody law, Fielder was able to borrow Starbucks’ corporate name and images (yup, Dumb Starbucks even used the familiar coffee siren in its logo) to attract customers based on the market appeal of their artistic inspiration.
The success of this stunt was pretty amazing. Fielder’s Dumb Starbucks had people waiting in line for hours to get a dumb product. All the items sold in Dumb Starbucks, from the coffee to the croissants, were considered pieces of parody artwork. Fielder posted a clever informational sheet of frequently asked questions briefly explaining Dumb Starbucks’ validity.
What did Starbucks have to say about its dumb counterpart? A rep stated that the company was “evaluating next steps.” There was no need for court action, however, as the copycatting coffee shop shut down when the health department cited the shop for not having a valid public health permit. Piggybacking on brand recognition, Fielder was able to pull of his amusing stunt and stoke the fire of corporate authority.
Photo credit: LA Weekly