Why The Starbucks “Race Together” Campaign Failed To Fail

Why The Starbucks "Race Together" Campaign Failed To Fail

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Today is Word Carnival day – and that means it’s the one day a month where a band of business owners that I know get together to blog on the same theme. This month’s theme: myth busting.

And what a fantastic topic. I bet we can all pick out something (or two or three somethings) in our industry that our customers believe that are simply not true. And it’s our job as smart and ethical business owners to educate them.

The funny thing is that in my industry I feel like that’s ALL I do sometimes. Constantly battle the myths and misconceptions that are both “common sense” (but inaccurate) or propagated by less ethical or less informed marketers. These are the myths that can cost businesses time and money, leading to little or no results and often disillusionment with the process of marketing altogether.

So there was no shortage of topics to tackle this month. The challenge was narrowing it down to one.

Then the Starbucks “Race Together” campaign fell into my lap. And I realized that there are worse myths than the ones that cost us time and money and lead to our disillusionment. There are the myths that sell disillusionment, that make the internet and social media and most of the human race seem hopeless and horrible. We want to throw our hands up and give up not only on marketing but on people entirely.

That’s why I ditched my original “beware the marketing myth du jour” topic and I’m going to talk about why the failure of the Starbucks campaign is a myth worth busting – and why the haters can’t admit it.

What Is The “Race Together” Campaign?

You don’t have to go far to find a headline, but I did find it interesting that in reading people’s comments, one of the things that came up over and over was that people thought it was about a literal race – Boston Marathon style.

Alas, nothing so simple for Starbucks… this campaign was designed to focus attention on the thorny issues of race and racial discrimination in our culture and to “start a dialogue” around topics of race and ethnicity.

It started with baristas writing “Race Together” on cups, among other things, and is planned to continue with the opening of additional stores in urban/minority areas, additional work with underprivileged youth and more.

Enter “the backlash.”

Twitter loves a good lambasting, and you can imagine that the idea of discussing racial tensions over two sugars, no milk put a bunch of people into a snit. Commence Starbucks bashing. Commence screeching headlines about the failure of the campaign and the myriad reasons Starbucks and its CEO are massively delusional and out of touch with the world. Commence quoting every cleverly hostile tweet in every news story on TV, radio and print.

And, of course, commence marketers everywhere discussing why this campaign is the absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong way to “do” social media and how not to manage a PR crisis with all sorts of righteous indignation and finger wagging.

But I have a different perspective. And that’s what we’re going to tackle today. When you get to the end, I would like to hear your opinion, too.

“Starbucks Pulls Race Together Campaign”

False. Though you’d be hard pressed to read a headline that says different.

But if you go to the source – Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz who put the campaign in motion – he stated that the only part of the campaign that had ended was the baristas writing the catchphrase on the cups of customers. And even that wasn’t “pulled.” It was scheduled to end.

Yet every publication from the Christian Science Monitor (whose headline announces the “pulling back” without a single reference to such behavior in the article) to Business Insider discussing why the campaign was “doomed” would have you believe that this is just the next “gate” – followed only distantly by Gamergate and Emailgate.

The same Business Insider article that claims the campaign’s demise also published an “inside memo” from Starbucks to prove it.

Sounded intriguing, so I read it. Here is what it says, in summary (and you should certainly read it yourself to form your own opinion):

  • Baristas will watch the corporate video explaining the campaign
  • Baristas will place a campaign ad on the counter and bulletin board
  • Baristas will receive “Race Together” stickers and wear one on their apron and pass the rest out to customers, using this as an impetus for a conversation
  • Baristas will write “Race Together” or “Together” on cups

That’s it. That list could not have been more underwhelming if it tried. It’s worth noting that nowhere in the memo were baristas required to have a conversation about race with customers. They were asked to hand out stickers and start a conversation if people asked.

Here’s how I envision that going.

Some guy: “I’ll have a mocha venti triple foam latte half soy half skim upside down frappucino.”

Barista: “Here you go sir.” Dispenses absurd beverage and sticker.

Some guy: “What’s that?”

Possibly uncomfortable barista: “It’s a sticker. Starbucks is hosting a campaign to open a dialogue about race in America.”

Some guy, possibly awkward, more likely contemplating what an appropriately outraged tweet might look like as soon as he can start driving again so he can focus on his smart phone: “Oh.”

–End Dramatic Scene–

Incidentally, the Business Insider article also proves the planned end of the first phase of the campaign that so outraged people by asking baristas to write a grand total of 9 extra characters on a cup and give away a sticker. The super secret inside memo clearly states that this “cup writing” phase was scheduled to take place for a period of seven days, to end on March 22nd. Exactly as the CEO said.

So go ahead and read the headlines. Buy into the mythology that the campaign was a total failure and that it was hastily pulled due to social media backlash. You won’t find much else making news.

But I’m here to tell you that it did two things exactly right:

It started and ended when it said it would (at least this phase.)

And it opened a dialogue.

Why this matters to your small business: Big brands are easy to criticize and hate. But that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from backlash. I had my own experience recently when I spoke out against a particular marketing tactic on this blog that incited at least three “rebuttals” that I know of, none spoken in a particularly kind fashion. If people can be that “outraged” over my opinion on marketing, imagine how they might react to delicate matters of importance.

So should you shut up? Be careful not to rock the boat? Worry about every criticism and bad review and negative headline? Should you step back from expressing your own opinions on matters of small/industry importance or large/cultural ones?

Hell, no. The world needs more people to be unapologetic about their passions. Not everyone will agree with them, but if you express them clearly, if you leave the hate and “snark” out of it, someone will listen. The right people will listen.

“The Wrong Time And Place To Start A Conversation Is While Waiting In Line For Coffee”

From a tweet, one of the many that seem to pass for “news” as long as they are written by Some Random Person and embedded on someone else’s website:

Being a barista is hard enough. Having to talk #RaceTogether with a woman in Lululemon pants while pouring pumpkin spice is just cruel. (via @IjeomaOluo)

Yup.

It sure is.

You know what else is cruel?

Racial oppression. Discrimination. Hatred.

Just because you didn’t like the fact that it came with your morning coffee and made you feel weird and uncomfortable does not make the campaign a failure.

Newsflash: conversations about race suck. Even the least racist among us say stupid things or get a squishy feeling inside when we’re asked to talk about touchy subjects.

The mythology here is that there is a “right” time and place for the conversation but clearly “here” and “now” are not it. You can extend this to just about anything. Pick a campaign and someone will tell you why it was the wrong time, wrong place, wrong execution, wrong idea, wrong people doing it.

Do you know what I think? I think people just like other people to be wrong. Because if you’re wrong that means I’m right. I win!

So when is the “right” time to talk about race? Sunday morning talk shows? After a terrible death, shooting or racial incident? Privately, where nobody else can hear the possibly racist or stupid thing about to come out of your mouth?

Honestly, I’m convinced that people just need something to hate. We’re living in a social media culture, one that proclaims that revolutions start on Twitter and justice spreads through the equality of the internet. But let’s not be too social or discuss actual social issues. Let’s just pay lip service to the idea of social change from the comfort of our ergonomic desks where we keep our triple mocha double soy extra hot grande cappuccino lattes with a shot of Espresso that we bought from the evil profit-driven company that made it.

Some people are up in arms about the fact that “a corporation” started the conversation.

I’ve certainly never had a love affair with corporations but is it possible to see past the imagined motives of “The Man” to the springboard this can provide? If you’re so convinced that there is a right time and place for this, then make the time, find the place, and take the conversation away from the corporations back to the people. I dare you.

Why this matters to your small business: If you wait around for everything to be perfect and above criticism before you do anything, you’ll die before you move. We’re terrified enough of being left out, rejected and unloved. And the constant yammering of Random Person On Twitter snarking about bad ideas and poorly executed campaigns is not helping matters.

There are no perfect times and places, no perfect campaigns, no 20/20 foresight. There are just imperfect people trying imperfect things. Do not let fear stop you from standing out, from trying something new, even from failing.

And believe me, I’m not preaching. I know this falls into the “easier said than done” category because I fight with myself daily over should I/shouldn’t I. I debated every word of this article because I don’t doubt there will be dissent, perhaps criticism and possibly even contempt.

But at some point you have to move or die. There are people who will hate you and people who will support you. Find the latter. Hold on tight. Ignore the rest.

“The Campaign Was A Case Of Brand Misalignment”

I read this in a LinkedIn post.

Are you kidding me?

Starbucks is the epitome of the “socially conscious” company. Whether you want to believe that’s a case of morality or marketing is another conversation but you can’t say that taking on this social issue falls outside its purview.

Gay rights.

Youth Outreach.

Veterans.

To me this is in perfect alignment with their brand ethics.

The real issue at hand is that people see the gesture as “inauthentic.” Apparently “authentic” corporate behavior is destroying and pillaging society. Anything done for the social good is simply marketing.

I can’t speak to the motives of the CEO but I can tell you this much: Starbucks has lost money over its social stances before and they’re probably doing it again now. And the CEO has consistently told people who don’t like it to kindly take their money elsewhere.

Is this “inauthentic?” Who are we to judge, anyway? The fact that the gesture came from a rich, white guy seems to outrage people even more. One would think that serious discussions of inequality are only the right of the oppressed.

Here’s why Howard Schultz is exactly who should be starting the conversation: because his demographic is the one consistently charged with racism. Even if he does it awkwardly, clumsily, occasionally insensitively, he’s doing it. There is nothing malicious, ill-willed, oppressive or hateful in anything he has said or done on the matter.

And he’s the one with the power and money to be heard. The composition of his board of directors notwithstanding (ie: white guys), he is not morally prohibited from trying to make sense of a difficult topic nor is he automatically inauthentic for doing it.

Why this matters to your small business: Sometimes you’re just not going to win an argument. Even when you think you’ve lined everything up reasonably, no matter your intentions, someone, somewhere, is going to find a flaw. And you will wonder as I did: “Are you kidding me?”

Accept this now: you won’t win. After I read the LinkedIn article referenced above, I felt compelled to comment and make a point about the cause being in line with the brand. That was immediately followed by someone telling me that “racism goes both ways.”

As indeed it may, but again, beside the point. Once people start pulling at the loose threads they will not relent.

Another commenter went on for four paragraphs in some weird Kantian rhetoric to define the word “flaw” (one in my 253 on the subject) and seemed to want to know if I would be willing to call myself flawed.

Um. Yes?

That is also beside the point.

The actual point here is that there is some criticism and disagreement you can address, some that will further a conversation, and some that will not. Knowing the difference is part art but ultimately vital to the survival of your business. You don’t need to justify and explain everything all the time.

You understand your own intentions. You know the purpose of your actions. You judge whether they are right or wrong and you live with yourself. Some people will come along with you on the journey (the customers and real fans that you are in alignment with) and the rest is just flotsam.

The Wrap Up

I admit, this topic got me a little riled up this week. In part, I’m disgusted that the conversation is about a campaign about race and not about race. In part because I feel there are so many race issues percolating under the skin of equality we’ve painted over our laws and (usually) our public behavior.

Partly I’m sick of the fabricated and self-righteous outrage over everything and the mad dash to post the snarkiest tweet so it will get quoted on the CNN ticker.

But in a way I’m also glad because it did open a dialogue. It’s made me think harder about what I read and how I form my opinions. It’s made me think deeper about how what I say can be construed or affect other people.

It’s made me look at how I’m being manipulated into believing certain things (think: backlash, failure, misalignment, inauthenticity) but that if I step back from the echo chamber for a moment there are actually other conversations happening.

For every person saying, “Doomed!” there was another asking, “If not now, when?” The latter doesn’t make for a good headline or a tweet snarky enough to be worth embedding on a news site. But I think I’ll join that other conversation for now, and see where it goes.

For a campaign that failed miserably, it’s got us talking. We had a discussion about it on our podcast this week and we’re having a guest to discuss it further next week.

Why? Because what affects the world affects our businesses. Because people are our business and we can’t pay lip service to “building relationships” if we’re only willing to do that as long as it’s convenient and comfortable.

Human relationships are messy and people are more than just your best avatar. And sometimes we have to do a Starbucks and think past our bottom lines to what’s right. Sometimes we have to skip the selling points and have an honest conversation.

This is mine. What’s yours?

This post is part of the Word Carnival, a monthly group blogging event where some of the smartest business owners you’ll meet get together to dish on a topic. This month’s topic: Myth busting and urban legends, including things people believe in or about your industry that are just plain wrong. Let’s pull back the curtain. You might just learn something new! Read the rest of the fantastic carnie articles here.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • Michaela Mitchell

    Zero backlash here. I’m tempted to stand up and do a slow clap while some meaningful song from the 80s plays in the background. I saw the same headlines and, because I hadn’t been following it, wondered what had happened to cause the ruckus but didn’t have time to investigate. It’s strange to see a brand willing to talk about race, but you’re right, it fits with the Starbucks personality of taking on social issues. As someone who goes to SB every day, I’m a little sad I never got a sticker or a special message on my cup – especially now that I know it caused such angst amongst people who seem to need to have something to be angst-filled about.

    You’re right, snarky wins over the more reasoned responses but I think that’s only temporary. Once something becomes part of a cultural or societal norm, most people calm down. Maybe SB was one of the first big brands to try it…but maybe they’ll also inspire other brands to do something similar. If enough companies start entering the public debate on hard topics, eventually people may even calm down enough to hear the message.

    • lol… perfect scene 🙂 Of course you’d need to add John Cusack to make it official.

      The thing about the headlines is… everything is always a ruckus. You might think the world was constantly on fire. Sometimes I read good stuff and I’m like… no way. On this planet??

      I didn’t get a sticker either but I may have missed that week. I’m just waiting for it to come up in a store again. I will “engage” 🙂

  • Excellent analysis, Carol Lynn. Just because we’re flawed and make mistakes doesn’t mean we should stop talking about things that matter or go for the easy answers.

    • There are never easy answers! And that is another myth we can bust here 🙂 Everyone wants to buy into the easy thing but that is not life. And yes, making mistakes is underrated. Just go make one. And when the world doesn’t end, you will realize you can do it again!

  • “It’s made me think deeper about how what I say can be construed or affect other people.” As someone who communicates (and teaches others how) for a living, this has always been part of the challenge. Far too many of us hold back on what we’d really like to say because we’re afraid it will be misconstrued or cause people to unsubscribe. But it’s actually a brilliant way to bring your Right People closer to you. Find the courage, folks. Speak up and show some backbone. It’s called leadership.

    • ooooo you mean that you can become a leader by…. leading?? What a thought. Yes, wouldn’t that be nice, if people did communicate. As a nice side effect we may start to realize that there are more ways to think about something than just “our way”.

  • It’s a pathetic mess.

    Brings to mind that age-old principle, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” TOO TRUE some days on Twitter and other social media platforms. You almost have to take everything with a grain of salt on the web or, at a minimum, learn to be extremely discerning — and also learn to un-tag yourself from nasty, hurtful, cruel conversations.

    Unfounded rage and raucous is not my style or my cup of tea. Neither is stupidity.

    Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have strong convictions, core values, religious beliefs, political viewpoints, and the like. However, I don’t jump up and down, scream like an idiot, and act like an animal — online or off.

    “People just need something to hate”. Yep. For sure. Truthbomb to the max. The news media thrives on it. Nothing finer than a story about someone hating something or somebody. Disgusting. Sadly, they rarely engage in those “honest discussions” you’ve mentioned. In my estimation, they love to fuel the fire of hatred – smiling all the while as they throw more logs on the fire and watch their ratings go up. Thank God I don’t work in that industry. I wouldn’t last a week.

    I want to believe Howard Schultz’s intentions were good.

    “There are people who will support you.” Yep. For sure. Truthbomb to the max. 🙂

    • This is what my dad emailed to me afterwards: “If you believe one half of what you read, one half of what you see and one half of what you know, you might have one half of the truth.” Life is more complicated than we make it out to be in the easy, attention-grabbing headlines but it’s a lot harder to sell ads that way.

      Given my “yell first, ask questions later” Italian background, I have spent a lot of time tempering my reactions. So yeah, I go into a reactionary snit about things sometimes – in my brain. And then I remind myself that there is more to it, that there are different perspectives and possibly things I don’t even know! I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to react. We’re human. But spewing that reaction out into the world? That’s where “stop and think” comes in. Just because you CAN shoot out a tweet as the words form in your brain doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I think this is part of the fundamental problem, which is not that we have negative reactions but that we let them reign. Especially because they sell.

      I have no reason to believe Howard Shultz’s intentions were anything but good. Even if they were purely marketing, they were still for a positive reason. Not to harm or spread misery.

      I will be interested in how the rest of this plays out for sure. Should be interesting trying to dig to the bottom of what “really” happened beyond the reported failure.

      • Your dad has his head screwed on straight. Yeah, “stop and think”. What a concept!

  • sue

    Wow! I find the social themes presented here as valuable as any of the applications to marketing. Thanks for looking at some difficult ideas. Made me wish I lived by a Starbucks!!

    • I didn’t think anyone *didn’t* live near a Starbucks 🙂 They seem so omnipresent! Anyway, I’m glad you found this valuable. Let’s keep it going!

  • James Pier

    Bravo! Carol Lynn! Actual discussion!

    Starbucks has a long record of being a conscientious employer and buyer. The values they demonstrate as a company originated with the founder. He deserves credit. Starbucks customers I suspect widely afford him and the Starbucks brand that credit.

    I applaud the new store locations and engagement with at-risk youth, and it appears the writing on the cups effectively got attention. What’s not to like? Haters are gonna hate.

    If more and more people write posts like yours here, where it’s discussion and not diatribe, there’s a chance we could drown out the knee-jerk reactions of people who’ve decided in advance not only what they themselves believe but also what’s in the minds and hearts of those who disagree with them.

    I have no doubt that race and racism do affect lives. But unfounded accusations of racism preclude any constructive dialogue and greater understanding and cooperation. I’m white, male, and generally vote Republican. Those facts don’t demonstrate my attitudes about race–but many, many people label me a racist based only on that bit of information. Boom–conversation over.

    If we are going to cooperate and compromise and try new approaches to long-standing problems, then pre-judgment has no place in the conversation. I think authenticity and sincerity ought to be assumed until evidence to the contrary shows up. A person’s race and sex should never be grounds for judgment.
    That goes for rich white males too.

    Thank you for a genuine contribution and a reasonable voice where those things are all too scarce.

    • Thanks James – boy would I love to be able to drown out the screeching diatribes! And after listening to people on the issue – actual people, not just the worst tweets picked out for news headlines – there seems to be a lot more positive reaction than one might think.

      So you hit the trifecta – white, male, republican – and saying it out loud! And having a productive conversation. Imagine that. It’s sad that what passes for news is sensationalist fringe “reporting” if you can even call it that. “Let’s find the most obnoxious, worst of humanity and make that be the thing.”

      Of course, I’m just a guilty liberal so there’s also that…

      I do think we have issues of racism and I also think that a lot of it is perpetrated by the media and a contingent of politicians who really are so ensconced in their own bubbles of power that they fail to see the world around them.

      If we can get past the labels we could have a real dialogue. And by the way, I think there is quite a lot more to be said for actions. If we treat each other respectfully then that right there is the start of the solution to many problems.

  • SandyMcD

    So powerfully stated. Frustrating because I want to read it again, digest it, dig into the background and then really join in the conversation.

    What I’d like to add just from this first read is that truly the media are redundant and dangerous. They do us no justice. What about the millions of happy customers who smiled, engaged, tweeted good things, thought more about the context of the campaign, had dinner at with friends that night and discussed it? Any media cover them? Anyone think to ask their opinion? Doubtful I imagine, it wouldn’t make what they think is newsworthy. And who are they to dictate what is? When was it their right to take editorial decisions about what we read and think? Who put Rupert Murdoch and his ilk in charge anyway?

    I applaud you Carol Lynn. Let’s have coffee and oreos one day and get stuck in to what needs to be done 🙂

    • Based on the negativity I’ve read about, I really expected people (at least some people) to slam this article. But the reaction has been amazingly supportive which just goes to show that you can’t believe all the bleeding headlines. Conversations happen beyond the seven words used to sell you an ad. It restores my faith that there is way more to the world than what the media would have you believe! I guess all I (or we) can do is keep being the voice of reason – or at least the voice that is not screeching madly. I would so love to share an Oreo with you! I have a feeling we might forget to go home 🙂

  • Love this. I haven’t followed the whole controversy surrounding the “Race Together” campaign, but my initial thought when I heard about it was, “Well, at least a corporation is *trying* to start an important conversation.” I didn’t really see what the big deal was.

    There will always be haters; I’ve run into a few of them myself. And while it can be tempting to try to fight fire with fire, the best course is usually to explain your POV as clearly as you can, and then back off.

    Today’s intensely internet-based society can turn on anyone in a heartbeat, and the attacks can get really heated…fast. It’s kind of scary, and it does make me think twice before speaking out on any of the more divisive topics that I care about (women’s rights, abortion rights, etc.).

    I think you should definitely keep fighting and expressing your opinions, but only if you feel safe doing so. The anger and hatred that lives online is breathtaking (and not in a good way) at times.

    • You’re right, Molly, the internet is worse than a pit bill on crack. No offense to pit bulls, which I hear can be quite lovely 🙂

      I will express my opinion to anyone who will listen – but only converse with those willing to leave the attacks behind and just talk human to human.

  • Brambo412

    If “every publication from C.S.M. to B.I.” ridiculed the campaign, and the Internet exploded almost uniformly in mockery, how can it be termed a success? If people didn’t appreciate it, then it didn’t work.

    You are one who found “the opportunity” to talk about race in America valuable. Great. Can you share with us some insights about race relations that you gained through the campaign, that you did not have before? Not thoughts about the politics of these efforts, but about the state of race relations itself or likely ways to accomplish progress. That would be worthwhile.

    While I applaud “rich white guys” struggling awkwardly to engage these topics despite the difficulty, I definitely cannot applaud it not even occurring to them to reach out first to established civil rights and social justice organizations and leaders to do research on how to be effective in this arena. Seems like Starbucks went into this half-cocked and unprepared.

    • You miss my point. Headlines do not deem the success or failure of the campaign and as many conversations and comments have demonstrated, the headlines are not the whole story. The point of my statement is that despite negative headlines, people are talking, and they’re doing it in a positive way. You need to look past the spoon feeding and the loudness to see it.

      I am also not here to demonstrate the success. Solving issues of race is nothing that can happen in a week, let alone with one campaign. The success of the campaign is beside the point. Nobody – not least of all Howard Schultz – expected to heap rainbows of idealism on the world and turn it into a utopia. Success is not measured in tweets or ROI or even reaction to a campaign but in long term effects and even unintended consequences. Disliking it doesn’t change anything. Disliking it doesn’t mean it failed. Starbucks and Howard Schultz did not set out to make people like them, so calling the campaign a failure because people didn’t like it is hardly justifiable.

      Measuring the ultimate effects of the campaign – success, failure or even the ones we may not see – is far outside any of our domain.

      Yes, I am the one who found opportunity. As are many others I’ve spoken with, as are many others who you can find online if you look past the headlines. However, I’m not going to demonstrate that to you. My job is not to convince you of anything. It’s to align myself with people who do want to talk. If that’s you, welcome. If you simply want me to defend myself, I won’t.

      Nor am I applauding anyone for making mistakes. I’ve chosen, rather, to look past them to the good that may come. You prove my point, which is that there will always be someone telling others how they “should” or should not have done something. “Should” we stop talking about race until we get it right, do the “right” amount of outreach, figure out the “best” way to talk about it? We’d die trying. I vote for awkward imperfection over nothing.

      • Brambo412

        “My job is not to convince you of anything. It’s to align myself with people who do want to talk.” Okay. I’m new here. But it still sounds like you’re saying, “The campaign was a success because it was well-intended.” I asked to hear about the experiences in race-centered conversations you say you’ve had, because I haven’t seen anywhere online yet someone actually reporting about any of these constructive conversations inspired by Starbucks. And I’m actively searching for it.

        Let me be clear too, I *also* vote for awkward imperfection over nothing… AND I vote for critically examining our past efforts, learning from our mistakes and improving. Because it’s important. The next time someone wants to try something like this, in my opinion they’d be well-advised to ask for advice from the Southern Poverty Law Center, or the NAACP, or the National Urban League first.

        • Thanks for jumping back in, and just to clarify, I’m not saying it was a success but I AM saying it wasn’t the dismal failure it was portrayed to be.

          What I’m saying more specifically is that the media loves to highlight the worst in everything because it sells more ads.

          And yes, it did start conversations for me. In addition to both online and offline conversations, we’re hosting a guest on our podcast next week to talk about this topic in a personal way. Does it solve the race issue? No, and that will not happen with any campaign or conversation. It will happen over time with every word and every gesture and every small understanding. I can’t change the world. Starbucks can’t change the world. But together we can begin to make the ripples that will eventually become change.

          Next time, someone may consult with the Southern Poverty Law Center or the NAACP first and perhaps they will do it because they learned something from this. That would be success in my opinion. What would be a terrible and sad failure is if nobody were brave enough to try this again because of the “backlash” that reportedly happened this time.

          Yes, I’d like to see another approach, a more inclusive approach. But for another approach to happen, someone has to start somewhere. I would prefer this to be a catalyst rather than a complete failure. If reason can stand against headlines, if we can have a dialogue one person at a time, then there’s hope.

  • Wow! I appreciate the courage it took for you to write this post and express your opinion, despite the negative backlash that you’ve probably already received from people who disagree. As small business owners, it can be so difficult when you have to try to be “perfect” and every decision you make in today’s market has to be second-, third-, and even fourth-guessed. If it’s hard for a huge corporation to make a “mistake,” then it’s a thousand times harder as a small business. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • It seems, sadly, like Twitter has become the overlord of mistakes. Please, just do NOT make one that someone notices and then snarks about! Your life could be over. And that’s not an exaggeration, I’ve read way too many stories of backlash that has done harmful things to people. It’s exhausting to constantly be on the defense. I’m all for thinking things through before you spew them out into the world but there has to be a point of reason where you CAN speak what you mean and what you feel without worrying about the reaction.

  • Christina Carson

    Sour grapes are sour grapes. Schultz is a gutsy man who has the courage and commitment to address an issue he feels is tearing this country down. The jadedness of the press and social media is the response of those who don’t have that same sense of courage and commitment to something in their lives. What saddens me is that people seem to not realize where their negative response to this daring yet honest act of Starbuck’s CEO comes from. It’s not the product of intelligent analysis. It is fear. Having the courage of one’s convictions, something this country heralded itself for in times past, seems hardly valued anymore. Thanks for the courage of your convictions, Carol Lynn. We just can’t let that one slide.

    • I agree, there didn’t seem to be any particularly intelligent analysis. Then again, part of what the media does is sell fear. It’s what gets people to click on headlines. Fear, failure, disaster, tragedy. How well would they have sold ads with a headline like: Starbucks runs somewhat flawed but brave and necessary campaign…

      I hope they don’t back down. I’m really tired of all the “backlash” which I suspect is just a handful of loud people who get attention for being as shockingly mean as possible.

  • Carol Lynn I first read this 5 days ago. At the time I couldn’t post because I was digesting. That’s a GREAT thing. It’s quite rare to find blog posts that dig in, dig deep, and admit there isn’t a solution to be found in 500 words or less. You analysis is brilliant, and I particularly appreciate your response to the “white guy guilt” complaint. I agree that at least he is trying, and it seems to be a genuine effort. If you don’t even make the effort you’ll certainly never succeed. I’ll leave you with this insight I learned from Michael Port during his public speaker training – You are either a performer or a critic. You can’t be both.

    • “Thinking” doesn’t get enough air play! I love that quote from Michael Port and I have a feeling I will be using it liberally.

  • Peter Frampton

    I think it is important to distinguish between the financial and the ethical success of a given campaign. I’m not sure how many consumers are going to start buying more Starbucks than before as a result of this campaign, and whether you agree with the snarky twitter posters or not, they too have money that they can spend (or not spend) at Starbucks. In regards to the authenticity or lack thereof of Starbucks trying to promote conversation, the identity of Starbucks as a brand seems to differ according to the person you talk to. Those in favour of this campaign see it as a natural extension of past socially-conscious campaigns. Perhaps these customers buy Starbucks because they see the company as being forward thinking. However, I would hazard a guess that most Starbucks customers just want their 11 adjective drink they are attached to. You seem to suggest that the numbers that fall into each camp are roughly equal. This post will likely attract the pro-campaign type of responder, but I think this is hardly indicative of the real-world prevalence. My guess? I really doubt many compelling conversations arose inside Starbucks as a result of words on a cup. The backlash against this campaign probably resulted from the fact that this campaign was analogous to being approached on the street by some campaigner with a sign. Starbucks customers weren’t asked if they felt like starting a discussion about race relations with their coffee, but now that message is being broadcast to every passerby who glances at their cup. I doubt a similar negative response would have arisen if there was a billboard within the store detailing how starbucks is hosting panel discussions + the company’s future plans to employ persons from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    • Couple of thoughts in response to your comments…

      There is no doubt this was not a campaign aimed at financial gain. Howard Shultz said as much himself when he said that people are probably not going to like it.

      My commentary is not about financial gain or the financial success of a campaign. It’s about the incessant hatred perpetuated on the internet. I’d also hazard a guess that a good percentage of people who think they are endlessly clever by complaining also spend $6 on a drink at Starbucks.

      I did not suggest that there are equal numbers of people who responded positively or negatively. What I stated is that there is more to it than the negative that we are sold as headline news. There is positive, in whatever percentage that may be. I cannot possibly know, nor can anyone, what the real world numbers are. The best we can hope for is a statistic based on a large and random sampling, which is beyond the scope of this post.

      I’m not guessing as to how many positive or negative conversations happened in Starbucks or elsewhere. And I don’t doubt that people were variably underwhelmed, irritated, surprised – and also quite possible pleasantly surprised – to learn about a campaign about race from a hash tag on a paper cup. This campaign is part of a far larger one and indeed a far larger social issue than one that can be addressed in any one place during any given time. Nobody ever “feels” like talking about something difficult and unpleasant. Given the conditions in this country, I don’t think that matters. It’s time to “feel” uncomfortable and to hear things you don’t want to hear at inconvenient times. The alternative is to close our eyes and ears and pretend that racism is over, which is partly what’s happening. And you don’t have to believe me. You can find any number of people who will tell you there is no racism or at the very least that it’s pure exaggeration.

  • A terrific article, with just the right amount of humor and irony. I admire you for confronting the topic and for sticking up for Starbucks’ stated purpose (to start conversations about race in the U.S.).

    • Thanks, I really hope they stand by it and go forward with their plans – perhaps learning something along the way, but without caving in to hate-tweets!

  • Love, love, LOVE this post! There is never a “good time” to have a discussion about race issues. Except for NOW. Now is the time, by whatever means possible. Thank you for busting this myth wide open. I don’t go to Starbucks, and have been in my own little world, news-wise, so did not know about the campaign. Sharing this one far and wide!

    • Thanks Janice, glad you enjoyed this. It’s funny, but for all the outrage and hoopla that came out of this, the vast majority of people never even noticed it was happening.

  • Not that I ever question why I love you so much, but, if by chance I did, you just keep reminding me alllll the time.. This was phenomenal.. I love it when you get all worked up… What a phenomenal topic and a brilliant take on it…

    • Outrage about outrage seems to be my thing! Thank you for all the nice things you pretty much say ever.