Starbucks' Coffeehouse Rock

Art has always has its sponsors. Lorenzo de Medici of Florence once supported giants like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, while Austrian Emperor Joseph II patronized Mozart. These days, of course, art, and especially music, has become more of a popular affair in many respects. Nevertheless, even today's rock musicians need some help along the way before they hit it big with fans.

Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) has decided that it wants to take on the role of musical patron. The coffee purveyor has already had notable success in the music business by selling CD compilations of older favorites, including Ray Charles and Tina Turner. Now, the coffee giant is breaking ground by sponsoring new musical talent. Starbucks announced Tuesday that its Hear Music label will team up with Lava Records, an affiliate of Warner Music Group, to launch the new all-female group, Antigone Rising.

The latest move is another example of Starbucks' marketing savvy. It's not just that the company has quality products or has developed a reputation as a respectable corporate citizen (although some have suggested the firm is not so socially responsible). Rather, Starbucks has gone much further than your average company in weaving itself deeper and deeper into American society. Perhaps most significantly, Starbucks' locations seem to have become the new public squares. My neighborhood Starbucks, for instance, is always bustling with informal business and social meetings. The coffee outfit encourages this behavior by offering such amenities as wireless Internet access.

As it welcomes people in, Starbucks also has worked hard to define its own distinctive Seattle-cool image. And with this image, the company has diversified into a myriad of product areas (such as music) to create its own unique lifestyle. It's a strategy that appears to have captured the attention of Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) .

Of course, Starbucks' move into new music may be taking its marketing one step too far. But given its deft handling of its image to date, I'm not betting against the company.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.


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