Was ‘Friends’ Just One, Long Advertisement for Starbucks?

Friends fans are experiencing a bit of withdrawal. As the world continues a collective lockdown to slow the spread of the Coronavirus,  many are turning to Netflix and other streaming platforms to keep them occupied. One show they won’t find streaming right now is Friends. The series was pulled from Netflix in January 2020 in anticipation of its move to a new home in May, and the launch date can’t come fast enough. For now, we’ll just need to indulge in some wild fan theories. One of the best fan theories to date belongs to Alex Baker, a podcaster, who suggested that Friends was just one, long Starbucks advertisement. While some of his evidence is a bit of a stretch, his theory is undoubtedly impressive.

The fan theory suggests Starbucks has the world’s most effective marketing campaign

Back in 2017, Baker took to Facebook to share a theory that Friends was an elaborate ploy to get the world into the idea of coffee as a luxury item. The drawn-out marketing campaign was the brainchild of Starbucks, according to the theory. Essentially, the theory argues, that Starbucks needed to persuade people into spending obscene amounts of money on coffee, by making the drink seem social and hip.

In Baker’s intense, winding conspiracy theory, he draws several parallels that make it seem entirely plausible that television shows, in many ways, influence the actions of everyday people. For example, Baker suggests that the wildly popular TV show Cheers helped bring more people into bars, perhaps looking for the same comradery that the everyday drinkers at the Boston-area basement bar found.

Cheers, which ended in 1993, backed into both Frasier, which served as its spin-off, and then a year later, Friends. It’s important to note that Frasier took place in Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks. Coincidentally enough, that series also prominently displayed a coffeehouse as a social gathering spot. Baker theorized that the Friends and Frasier helped get people out of the bars and into the coffeeshops.

Baker points out some critical connections between Friends and Starbucks

The connection between Starbucks and Friends runs deeper, according to the theory than the fact that Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Ross Geller, Chandler Bing, Joey Tribianni, and Phoebe Buffay enjoyed sipping on giant cups of coffee. The theory points out that Rachel’s last name could be connected to the mermaid-branded coffee seller. Green is the predominant color in the Starbucks’ logo. It’s also suggested that Rachel’s hair, in the first season of the series, looks suspiciously similar to the wavy hairstyle on Starbucks’ mermaid logo.

Baker also pointed out that Starbucks got its name directly from Moby Dick. In the piece of classic literature, Starbuck was the name of the first mate. So, how does that connect to Friends? Chandler’s unique name is said to be an occupation name that was once given to candlemakers. Baker points out that chapter 119 of the book is titled “The Candles.” Taking it a step further, Joey and Chandler lived in apartment 19.

Did Friends fuel the popularity of Starbucks?

Baker’s exceptionally detailed conspiracy theory was clearly a joke, but everyone has to admit, he does discover some interesting connections. There is one minor issue with the theory, though; Starbucks might have taken off in the 1990s, but the coffee purveyor was around for years before Friends hit the airwaves. In 1971, Starbucks opened its first store, but the coffeehouse concept it became famous for wasn’t developed until 1984. If Friends was an elaborate advertisement, wouldn’t the masterminds behind it have executed on it earlier? Maybe, maybe not.

By 1994, the year Friends first aired, Starbucks had 425 locations. The coffee giant opened its very first drive-thru operation that same year. It is possible that Friends could have, in a roundabout way, helped fuel the popularity of coffeehouses as a social gathering space, and, by proxy, helped increase the popularity of Starbucks, in particular. In 2004, the year the final episode of Friends aired, Starbucks had 8,560 retail locations.

So, was it all an elaborate, 10-year long marketing campaign? Most likely not. It’s still a fun theory to think about, and Friends fans have to admit, the zany theory is undoubtedly well thought out.  Perhaps when Friends finally returns to streaming next month, you’ll grab a Starbucks’ coffee concoction to celebrate its triumphant return.