Observational Research Report

Report on Name Misspelling at Starbucks

For Advertising 281, March 2018

By Indira Midha

For this observational research assignment, I chose to sit at the bar area of the Starbucks on Green Street in Champaign, IL, in order to see how people would react to misspelled names written on their drinks. I wanted to see if the misspelling of names truly causes more publicity for the brand through sharing the humorous botching of one’s name on social media platforms. I did this by attempting to listen to the names being called when the drinks were ready, and then looking at the spelling of the name while the drink was on the counter waiting to be picked up. For the people who stayed in the Starbucks to consume their drink, I tried to observe whether or not they took a Snapchat or Instagram story of their cup.

I chose an unstructured approach to the observation because I wanted to observe how people interacted with their drink if it looked as though it had been misspelled. I didn’t want to have a checklist, something common in structured observation. I did look to see if the subjects shared a photograph of their drink or not. I wasn’t looking for specific data, just a simple yes or no. I was not looking for a specific list of steps to be followed, I was just looking at whether or not there was a seemingly misspelled name, and whether or not the person whose cup it was shared it via a visual social media platform.

I chose natural observation because I didn’t think I had to ask the baristas to misspell names on the drinks, and I also chose a quite natural, everyday situation to observe. This kind of thing happens more often than not, and I wanted to see if there actually was some potential of a true possibility of baristas misspelling names on purpose in order to increase brand awareness and relevance on social media. I observed a brief behavior occurring at its own pace, which is what classifies this as a natural observation.

My observation was disguised because, although I was visible, I was playing the role of a typical customer drinking her latte, not an open performance of the observer role. I think that if people knew that their Snapchat habits were being watched, they would not engage in them to begin with. This is why I believe that disguised observation was a better option in this specific situation. As little kids, when we knew the principle was observing our classroom, we were always on our best behavior and didn’t engage in our usual pranks and such. The principal would leave with an artificially constructed perception of reality, and this would lead to incorrect assumptions of findings from the day’s observations.

I chose to go with a passive role in my observation here because, as stated above, I think that if I were to have interfered or interacted with the subjects, their behaviors would not have been as organic to begin with. An active role in this observation would have delivered inauthentic findings. By simply acting as though I was just glancing around, nobody knew that their photographic habits were being watched, so they carried on and proceeded as usual. I did not think that any facilitation on my behalf was necessary in this specific context.

My conclusion from this observational experiment was that, indeed, people are more likely to share their drink on a social media platform if they have a misspelled name on their cup. While I did observe a few people take Instagram stories of their drink, the overwhelming majority of photo-takers were on Snapchat. Another common method in which people shared their photos was through texting. My hypothesis was correct, people are more likely to share their drinks on social media if they have some funky name spelling on them. So, based off of this finding we could assume that it is an intelligent move, in terms of public relations, to purposely misspell names in order to increase the amount of images of the company’s products are shared each day. We cannot state that the baristas are purposely doing this misspelling, but we cannot rule out the possibility of the validity of the rumor that they are taught to do this.

I saw Sarah or Sara written as “Cera,” Kailey or Kaylee written as “Cayli,” and Zac or Zack written as “Zaq.” I noticed that the people whose names did not seem to be misspelled were much less likely to share images of their drinks. I only saw one girl take a selfie with her coffee next to her face while showing off the Starbucks logo. This was only a one-time occurrence, though, in a matter of the hour that I spent at that Starbucks. While it was good publicity that this girl was showing off the brand’s logo in her selfie, it’s also good publicity when people take pictures of their drinks and say things like, “nice spelling, Starbucks.” If people are focusing on highlighting the name on the drink, but the drink itself looks good, people looking at the social media post may be tempted by the nice-looking and appetizing drink in the image rather than the funky name spelling. The odd name spelling does not taint the quality of the product whatsoever, so it gives consumers an incentive to share an image of their product while not tainting the brand or product image in terms of product quality.

I personally have learned a lot about observational research throughout this project, and I have developed a few tips for conducting experiments like these. In terms of observing the behavior of individuals in public, I suggest being passive, disguised, and letting the situation remain natural. I think that it is specifically important when observing people in public to simply let them do their thing and watch from the sidelines. If people know that they are being watched, they are most likely going to act differently than they would usually. I also think that it is important to keep these observational research methods simple when working as a complete outsider with no interaction with the subjects. I think that I was only able to carry out the observations that I planned because they only entailed two simple parts, but also there was only one thing I was looking for in the subjects: whether or not they were taking a photo of their drink and sharing it.

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