This week saw one of the biggest (and most poorly thought through) “fails” in marketing history. Starbucks “Race Together” campaign, where CEO Howard Schultz’s concocted idea of having Starbucks counter personnel, OK “baristas” I guess they’re called, engage customers about their views and awareness of America’s racial issues…whatever Howard thinks they are.
The campaign included writing “Race Together”on cups containing the customer’s Grande Latte, a USA Today insert and, of course, the hashtag “#RaceTogether” steering victims to a nifty little questionnaire, apparently designed to suggest the degree that the survey taker was racist.
This campaign was so successful that it lasted … a week…ONE WEEK! Of course the company claims the cup-writing/barista conversing part was only the start of a continuing “conversation,” including forum discussions (whatever the hell those are) and placement of more stores in minority neighborhoods (good luck with that at $5 a cup, unless they’re defining “minority” as affluent Asian Americans).
The company had planned all along to end the cup messages on Sunday and continue the campaign more broadly, Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said.
The cups were “just the catalyst” for a larger conversation, and Starbucks will still hold forum discussions, co-produce special sections in USA TODAY and put more stores in minority communities as part of the Race Together initiative, according to a company memo from CEO Howard Schultz said.
Bottom line: the campaign bombed.
Think about it. Even though the Starbucks customer base is uber liberal and very upscale, who wants to have a race-America chit chat when they are either 1) just running in to grab a quick cup to go OR 2) stopping by for a quiet coffee respite or social or business meetup?
Although Howie Boy Schultz should’ve stuck to selling coffee, or maybe limited his community outreach to disadvantaged works in the coffee plantations in Columbia, he just couldn’t restrain himself from addressing the assessment of current super-racist US Attorney General (“If it’s white, I’ll investigate or sue it”) Holder that America is a “nation of cowards” in talking about race.
Now, do I think this will harm in a significant way the “Starbucks” brand. Certainly not. Of course, on balance, given their ultra liberal customer base, it probably can’t incrementally help it either. Most people don’t associate a coffee-dispensing station with a sociology class on race relations.
Those that will to any degree really notice and remember this just plain dumb idea are marketing professionals, but they love Starbucks and will see it as a well intentioned effort by a concerned thought leader that just kind of missed the mark.
I, on the other hand, see it as yet another social engineering overreach by an arrogant millionaire elitist who is much smarter, and God knows, more sensitive than the rest of us.
Then again, I’m not a Starbucks fan boy. I like coffee, but can’t quite bring myself to paying $5 + per cup.