Why this Starbucks advertisement is secretly genius (from a copywriter’s POV)

Now, this will blow your brain to smithereens.


Did you see this last month?

This ad, at first glance, is a menu with two equally desirable options. Let’s look at it again.


So it’s a menu?


So what?

Well, it looks like a menu, but it’s an ad. Isn’t that weird? Menus present options. But ads persuade readers to pick ONE option. So which option does this ad persuade readers of? And who is the ad targeted towards?

It is a targeted advertisement for women with money who are watching their weight but still want something sweet and delicious.


If you don’t believe me, read on. Then comment here because I’d love your feedback on this.

Okay, more specifically, the objective of the ad is to sell the target customer — weight-conscious women with money — the Tiramisu Latte.

  • First, I’ll explain how the copy sells the Tiramisu over the Caramel Flan Latte.
  • Then, I’ll take in subliminal visuals that very sneakily make the Tiramisu more desirable than the Caramel Flan.

Let’s analyze some copy

Let’s take a look at the copy of the headline first.


Now let’s break it down for a minute. Let me dissect each word with an explainer for each.

Sip — action & command, engages reader

…skipping “a” although it is important…

Sweet — specifies type of drink, specifics sell

Escape — emotional tap into customer’s desire for tranquility, peace, comfort, and recharging the batteries. The target customer probably works in business, medical, education, or house mothering, all of which create constant demand and stressful possibilities.

Got it? Good. Now let’s move onto subheadings…

The titles of the drinks actually work as subheads in this ad:

IMG_1403 IMG_1404

Copy-wise, notice a difference? Copy-wise. See it?

  • Caramel Flan Latte
  • new Tiramisu Latte

The latter latte is “new,” making it more desirable in the reader’s perception.

People want new. They feel like they need new. New works for them. New is a way to avoid oldness. New stays relevant, up-to-date, hip, youthful, cool, important, relatable, acceptable. “New” is also a proven selling word in advertising, so yeah.

If one thing that is new is contrasted with a second thing that is unspecified, we assume the second thing is old.

This subtle difference in subheads makes the Tiramisu Latte more desirable than the Caramel Flan, and the subconscious leans away from the Caramel Flan and magnetizes with the Tiramisu Latte.

Got it? Great. Now let’s move onto the pricing and details copy, the remaining bit.


The remaining copy includes the sizes of drink, their pricing, and calorie count of each. Because if you’ve gotten this far in the copy, you may be ready to make a decision. And you need these brass tacks to rationalize your action.

Now, this is crazy will blow your brain to smithereens.

Caramel Flan copy

  • tall $3.95 260 cal
  • grande $4.65 330 cal
  • venti $4.95 400 cal

Tiramisu copy

  • tall $3.95 250 cal
  • grande $4.65 320 cal
  • venti $4.95 390 cal

Nearly identical. What’s the difference?

The difference is small. Doesn’t matter. There’s a difference which gives the rationale an excuse to make a decision.

So the Tiramisu has a lower calorie count on all sizes, always. And the Caramel Flan has a higher calorie count on all drinks, always

Which drink will you buy?

A brief recap on what just happened

The headline and subheads hook you emotionally. Therefore, when your rationale kicks in, all it takes is a tiny health benefit to close the Tiramisu sale.

So… this ad’s objective is to push the Tiramisu Latte sales at weight-conscious women with a bit of cash in the purse. Headline hooks ’em, subhead leads ’em, numbers close ’em on the deal.

Got it? Delicious.

Now for subliminal visuals that make the Tiramisu more desirable than the Caramel Flan… to rich weight-conscious women!

Image of Starbucks ad for Tiramisu and Caramel Flan lattes

There’s that again.

Tiramisu visuals that create desire:

  • clean cup
  • scooped-out whip cream
  • human hand gripping cup
  • hand-sifted pan of chocolate powder in background
  • spoon with whip on it (in use)
  • actual tiramisu desert is being eaten
  • fork has desert on it
  • warmly-lit tabletop
  • pendant-like pin (high-status symbol) holding actual tiramisu desert photo up
  • clipboard clip on Tiramisu Latte photo (connotes a daily or weekly current event… remember, new?)
  • Tiramisu Latte photo is graphically square with outer advertisement frame — all others are slanted — which draws the eye to the Tiramisu Latte photo
Caramel Flan visuals that make it less desirable than the Tiramisu:
  • hung-up photos are slanted
  • Caramel Flan Latte photo is nailed down (connotes a long passage of time — oldness)
  • actual flan desert is untouched
  • no fork in sight (not being eaten)
  • looks squatty
  • on diner-style tabletop
  • stacked dirty dishes in background
  • water pitcher in background (negatives: low-status restaurant symbols, communicates slow bussing service)
  • Caramel Flan Latte is untouched
  • dribbly sticky flan drizzle leaking down side of cup
  • coldly-lit tabletop photo
  • low-quality tabletop wood (appears synthetic)
And that’s all I have so far. What do you think?
Let’s conclude things
The copy and visuals in this ad (which is no mere menu) make the target customer want to buy the Tiramisu Latte…
…while advertising the Caramel Flan and only subliminally insulting it. It all becomes sort of weirdly clear when you actually analyze it:
Look different now? Proving once again perception is flimsy yet powerful.

Look different now? Proving once again perception is flimsy yet powerful.

In reality, people still buy the Caramel Flan, but that’s because Starbucks has already established that buying behavior. Starbucks’ advertising copywriters, graphic designers, and art/creative directors created this ad to push a new product. They do this by strategically comparing and positively contrasting the Tiramisu against an old, yet proven, Caramel Flan.
Genius. Email me if you think so! copyweber@gmail.com

One thought on “Why this Starbucks advertisement is secretly genius (from a copywriter’s POV)

  1. I absolutely LOVE this post. I adore it. I love analyzing advertising and I LOVE reading other people’s analyses, and you have done a masterful and impressive job! Thank you so much for sharing this – I really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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