Deconstructing DaVido: How a YouTube Video about Starbucks Can Cause Extreme Paranoia

DaVido is a scary fellow. He’s a singer with a love song, some cameras, and a yen for Starbucks. Not the coffee, but a music contract. And his determination led to rejection for him, and almost cost me a pink slip, to boot.

DaVido – yes, he insists on being called DaVido — a 45-year-old restaurant and nightclub performer from New Brunswick, NJ (think of the fit love child of Danny Terrio and Frank Sinatra Jr.) is so intent on releasing “Java Jitter,” a swock (swing and rock) “I saw her standing there”-type paean to a comely Starbucks barista on that company’s Hear Music label that he’s taken the song to more than 200 Starbucks in the New York area, tried to perform it, and gotten kicked out – at times forcibly – all for the cameras.
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“I love their products,” he says. “I really believed Starbucks would embrace the song. But very few of the stores even gave us any kind of significant time to film.”

DaVido’s 18-month guerrilla film campaign has resulted in his posting a seven-minute video of the song, interlaced with his forced removal from many of the coffee bars, on YouTube. The clip is labeled “Starbucks Rejection Campaign” and links to a “Javajitter.com” Web site that lets you sign a petition to get the song onto the Hear Music label, and sells Java Jitter t-shirts and coffee mugs (natch!). The song itself is available on iTunes.

With only about 75,000 hits so far, the video has not yet found a large audience. (The YouTube audience’s appetite for pain seeded more than 1.2 million viewers for that dude who got Tasered at the Kerry speech in Florida, for example.) But the singer is trying to get the word out, and a couple of media outlets have taken the bait, including the Seattle Times (from Starbucks hometown) and his hometown Newark Star-Ledger.Anyway, despite the YouTube campaign, downloads and publicity aren’t the real goal, according to DaVido.

“The real impetus is to have Starbucks put me on their CD racks,” he says. “I’d like (Starbucks CEO) Howard Schultz to sign me in front of the world. I’m a lesson, I’m the American Dream. With the right tenacity, you can complete anything.”

In this case, all DaVido has yet to complete is a video that shows him literally foaming at the mouth over a buxom dancer in a green smock. But the video’s length and pacing are a major accomplishment – particularly his use of the line “Listen to this note,” which is in its execution even funnier than “Don’t Taze me, bro!”

Although I thought the video was pretty funny, I was nevertheless skeptical of the veracity of DaVido’s claims. I thought I’d somehow stumbled onto some kind of Starbucks viral marketing campaign. It smacked of a kind of anti-corporate branding campaign designed to win back the love of those who have rejected the monolithic caffeine purveyor on account of its ubiquity in the urban landscape.

Here are a few reasons for this:

1) It’s too perfect. While the whole theme of the video involves DaVido getting booted from Starbucks, the gang was able to dwell in at least a couple of the stores long enough to pull together long, choreographed segments involving hordes of what can only be termed DaVidians.

2) Some of DaVido’s interactions with Starbucks employees seem kind of scripted. Having him get kicked by a “little person” and yelled at by a cross-dressing barista are great comedic elements, and the cast of Starbucks characters seems to replicate the types you might find in the New York/New Jersey area (“I’m calling da cops,” says one manager. “Ya see what I’m doing? I’m calling da cops.”) Their pan-ethnic, pan-sexual multiverticality smacks of a company showing its commitment to diversity, even if it is a diversity united by its rejection of an oddball like DaVido.

3) The song itself. The song is awful. It’s so very awful that it makes us understand that Starbucks is doing its customers a favor by not allowing it to be played in their stores. This subtle promotion of the brand – even if it comes at the expense of DaVido’s bodily integrity – is one of the pillars of viral marketing.

But now that I’ve spoken with DaVido, and done some research, I’m pretty sure this guy’s for real. I couldn’t find any of those usual online traces that indicate a viral campaign, and Starbucks says he’s not part of anything they’re up to.

“I can confirm for you that he really is touring those Starbucks locations on his own,” Sanja Gould, a Starbucks representative, told me via e-mail. “We have not been involved at all.”

Despite the denial, there was one string hanging out there: the Java Jitter site’s online “journal” of DaVido’s quest does feature an early suggestion to Starbucks that the song and a video for it could be part of a viral campaign, but DaVido said they ignored the proposal along with the rest of the song.

“I wish it were a promotion,” he told me. “We’d have 75 million hits if Starbucks was promoting this, not 75 thousand. My dream is to have them get behind this. Let’s face it, it’s not the most widely watched video out there.”

Still not sold that DaVido was simply a nut and not one of Howard Schultz’s minions in a bad tuxedo, I called Tredici’s, an East Rutherford restaurant DaVido claims to work in, and spoke with a waitress about his performances.

“Oh, he works here all right,” said Debbie Nowak. “If you ask my opinion, he’s a little out to lunch. He thinks he’s Elvis. The owner books acts with local followings, but he doesn’t have much of one.”

Meanwhile, my research into the whole thing was starting to bug my boss, who refused to believe my minor obsession with the veracity of DaVido’s quest had anything to do with my actual job covering Ready-To-Drink Beverages. (Note to boss: I did ask DaVido if he liked Starbuck’s RTD products. “I love all of their products,” DaVido said to me. “I just think they need a drink called the Java Jitter. It would be a triple espresso with some cinnamon and a little chocolate.”)

I plowed onward. Another Interweb search revealed that an old friend of mine had interviewed DaVido some months ago for the Star Ledger – and the guy had insisted on being called DaVido even while talking about the death of his own mother. Considering that my friend is a serious journalistic butt-kicker, DaVido most likely is, indeed, DaVido, kooky singer and not DaVido, drone dreamed up by Starbucks and some rectangular-glasses-wearing-just-back-from-Burning-Man account exec at their ad agency of the moment.

Still, I can’t be sure that I’m not being used.

The power of the Starbucks drug is strong and the company is rich – so very strong and rich as to be synonymous with coffee itself.

I’m still not sure that they didn’t want to plant a truly cheesy song out there and lampoon themselves in order to shore up market share.

I mean, I’m suspicious, even paranoid. But that’s probably because, between my own highly caffeinated visits to Harvard Square’s three different Starbucks, I’ve caught the Java Jitter myself.