Starbucks Customization – Evil, Funny or Brilliant?

A video, Why Starbucks Misspells Your Name, has gone viral in recent days, garnering over six million views to date. This is Paul Gale’s hilarious take on the practice of

writing your name on your special order coffee mug. In the video, Gale plays a barista who, with an evil glint in his eye, happily spells everyone’s name. On purpose.

I don’t think Gale’s character represents the majority of Starbucks baristas, but he provided both laughs and a reminder that the name-writing action is actually brilliant theater.

Starbucks does not have to handwrite names.

Almost all fast food chains simply print a number on your receipt while your order is prepared. Starbucks’ seemingly quaint hand-written ordering system isn’t there because they don’t get the technology. Their mobile app is state-of-the-art and paves the way for cashless payments by smartphone.

Perhaps there is an operational advantage, for example, the precision of the order, which comes from writing everything on the cup itself.

But I think there is another advantage: the multiple uses of the client’s name, both spoken and written.

As a bonus, the process allows the barista to learn the names of regular customers. This allows for an even stronger customer connection when the barista greets her by name.

The power to use a person’s name in sales is not really new.

Dale Carnegie’s sixth principle is: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in all languages.”

There is plenty of data to back up Carnegie’s statement. Every direct and email marketer knows that response rates increase when marketing content is personalized with precision.

At MarketingLand, Amy Gesenhues reported on a study which showed that personalized emails produced six times higher transaction rates. (Surprisingly, perhaps, the same study showed that 70% of brands don’t use them.)

So writing Starbucks names on cups and shouting them out is probably good business practice.

What if they get the spelling wrong? Some customers might be irritated, but from a brain function perspective, the experience might be more memorable. It is proven that when the brain expects one thing and receives another, attention and interest increase. It’s the basis of most jokes, and it was also Shakespeare’s favorite linguistic technique. (See Shakespearian Writing.)

Jessica, by any other name (e.g. Gessika or Jesika), is equally sweet. Take it from the Bard. And Dale Carnegie.

Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 ways to persuade and convince consumers with neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011). Find Roger on

like @rogerdooley and on its website, neuromarketing.