The latest campaign from Starbucks called “Race Together” has ignited many controversies recently.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, made an official statement on Wednesday in which he defends his company’s new campaign “Race Together”, after many criticized it for its naivete and for its use of racial tensions to make its point.
Starbucks, the giant coffee shop chain, famous mostly for its Frappaccinos, will have the US employees write on the coffee cups the line “Race Together”.
Also, Starbucks’ new campaign involves publishing “conversation guides” on this topic. The campaign will have questions like “How have your racial views evolved from those of your parents?”
During the company’s annual meeting that was held in Seattle, Starbucks CEO said that the new campaign is looking to reach many people for good purposes.
Schultz said that many social media users will criticize his company for turning to a political agenda. But Schultz said that Starbucks’ intentions, when it came up with the idea behind this campaign, were pure.
Starbucks Race Together campaign is one of the many examples of a huge company that wants to link its brand with relevant social issues.
Major companies are very aware of the fact that customers are more and more interested in brands that project a feel-good message or get involved in embracing social causes.
However, this type of social campaign risks of falling flat or be misunderstood and heavily criticized by the media.
In the case of Starbucks Race Together, many did not see the correlation between the company’s products and the social cause it’s referring to.
After Starbucks announced its new campaign at the beginning of this week, many social media users criticized it for being opportunistic and very unsuitable for a coffee chain to involve itself into such a heavy issue.
Others mocked Starbucks Race Together campaign, questioning whether the company executives really believe that their employees will engage in fruitful conversations on racial issues with the customers while serving them a latte.
Cory DuBrowa, Starbucks’ executive of the communications department, complained that he had to block many people from his Twitter account and later had to close it because he received numerous negative comments regarding the Race Together campaign.
DuBrowa said he was overwhelmed by the negativity coming from people, especially since many comments attacked him personally.
During its yearly meeting, Schultz stated that he never believed Starbucks would solve America’s racism that has been around for hundreds of years, but he is hoping that it can somehow make a difference.
Schultz explained that employees are not forced to participate in the campaign and the customers who don’t like the message written on the cups, will receive another one, message-free. Schultz added that what Starbucks is trying to do with its latest campaign is not a marketing strategy or a PR move.
Laura Ries, a branding expert from Atlanta, commented on the recent controversies saying that big companies associate themselves with contemporary important social issues so that social media users get to talk about them. Otherwise, there aren’t many interested in discussing brands on social media platforms. So, it is a form of PR and marketing strategy, conscious or unconscious, Ries added.
One of the most successful campaigns that dealt with social issues was Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which was highly praised for trying to celebrate real women who have other beauty standards than catwalk fashion models.
Another brand that wanted to raise social awareness was Always, which ran its ad during Super Bowl. The message of the campaign was to empower young girls.
Both of these campaigns proved to be a success because there was a link between its message and the products the brand is selling.
But in Starbucks’ case, many don’t see the connection between morning coffee and racial issues.
Ries says that it’s a positive thing that huge brands want to involve themselves with important social issues, but Starbucks failed because people don’t naturally associate race relations with the products the company is selling.
Schultz concluded his speech about Starbucks Race Together campaign saying that:
“The great need for empathy, compassion, understanding, and metaphorically trying to put your feet in someone else’s shoes. We have to ask ourselves, is this the American promise that we were told to believe in?”
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