Starbucks Race Together Campaign

I opened up my e-mail this morning and the first one I saw was from Linkedin with an article titled: #RaceTogether 3 Reasons Behind Starbucks’ Failure. I’m a big Starbucks fan so the title caught my attention and I had only read a little about their Race Together campaign so I clicked to read more.

Starting March 17, the goal was for baristas in Starbuck’s 12,000 US stores to write “Race Together” on cups to initiate conversations about race and diversity with customers. Yesterday Starbucks ended the campaign, though they said it was always intended to end on the 22nd. The race campaign received a huge negative backlash across social media platforms including twitter.

This woman went to Starbuck’s around NYC and asked baristas about race relations. What she found is really interesting and amusing. Most said they didn’t want to talk about it, one person even told her she had to go through corporate with any comments.

Back to the the Linkedin article, it credited 3 reasons for the failure:

1. Brand misalignment – Starbucks as a brand isn’t associated with race or racial diversity. In essence, it’s a lot of middle/ upper class Americans buying overpriced coffee.

2. Authenticity Deficit – Employees were not trained on how to handle the questions, as the woman’s video above clearly shows.

3. Poor reaction – Starbucks had no crisis management plan if the campaign failed, as it did. Social media can be both positive and negative towards a brand and in this instance, Starbucks took a hard hit on social media.

Overall, I think the campaign had good intentions and I appreciate what Starbucks was attempting to do. But I think they failed to do their research and didn’t have a plan B should the campaign not be a success. I’ve been to Starbucks a few times since the campaign began both on and off campus and I was never presented with the Race Together campaign, which shows a failure in execution as well.

The Race Together campaign shows that social media can be a curse and a blessing. The campaign did create social media buzz and started a conversation, but not necessarily the one Starbucks had intended. I think Starbucks did the smart thing by pulling the plug on the campaign and if they choose to do a similar campaign in the future will choose one that relates to the brand and plan for the worse case scenario.


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