StarbucksandRaceTogether

Since Starbucks announced its latest campaign, Race Together, to improve the conversation surrounding racial inequality, Twitter has blown up with backlash against the coffee bar empire.

Here's a snapshot of their latest sponsored Twitter post:

The resulting comments ranged from pertinent and provocative questions bringing Starbucks' all-white senior management to task, to racist and political rants, to "the uncomfortably high price of your coffee" jokes.

The marketing tactic of discomfort-to-inspire-change works really well, in certain cases. For instance, Salvation Army's Dress campaign forced people in social media feeds to thoughtfully consider the widespread problem of physical abuse. You could look the other way, but you probably would not. A social change campaign can work really well, BUT ONLY if you do the following:

  1. You create a highly-shareable visual storytelling experience.
  2. You respect people's time.
  3. You empower people with the tools they need to take action for themselves.

The big problem with Starbucks' #RaceTogether marketing campaign and initial program structure is that it doesn't engage customers with the first two tactics (in fact, it goes AGAINST those) and it mildly attempts to achieve the third tactic with a lukewarm cross-promotion strategy with USA Today.

After watching Howard Schultz's video, I get it. I totally understand his wishes for his company, his partners, and the vision he wants to accomplish. And I applaud the company for good intentions. But good intentions are often decimated under terrible implementation, and in the case of #RaceTogether, there's more bad press than good.

Starbucks could tack in a different direction with their #RaceTogether initiative using a variety of methods: the "pay it forward" method of buying a coffee for someone else (ANYONE else instead of concentrating on the color of one's skin), sponsoring empowerment & employment-education programs in racially diverse communities, using a Building Bridges-type program to continue the conversation between police and individuals in a mutual space, underwriting community leaders trainings, etc. and recording these human experiences (video, audio, shared storytelling).

These are the complicated journeys of real change. Starbucks will need to demonstrate how this really works on a personal level, not on a disposable cup.