Starbucks gets scalded with response to #RaceTogether campaign

Discussion
Mar 19, 2015

If Howard Schultz and Starbucks’ management team didn’t already know, they certainly do now — no good deed, or attempt at one, goes unpunished. The company has been widely criticized this week for a campaign it has launched to get Americans speaking about the controversial topic of race in the U.S.

Earlier this week, baristas at the chain’s stores began writing "Race Together" on cups. The company also placed full-page ads in The New York Times and USA Today and announced it would partner with USA Today to publish supplements on the topic.

The point of the campaign is to start conversations that will create empathy, hopefully leading to action being taken and, ultimately, change. The idea grew out of internal meetings with associates following a series of troubling events last year involving racial minorities around the country. According to Fortune, nearly 200,000 Starbucks employees roughly — 40 percent of its total — belong to a racial minority.

Response to the campaign has been both swift and critical in the media and via social channels. Some have pointed out that Starbucks’ own policies (low wage rates) lead to some of the racial inequality its CEO says he is trying to address. Many questioned the (profit) motives of the chain in starting the campaign while others said it was naive to think any real discussions could take place in busy coffee shops.

Speaking at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, Mr. Schultz said, "There will be cynics and some in the media who criticize Starbucks. This is not some marketing or PR exercise. This is to do one thing: use our national footprint and scale for good."

Will Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign ultimately help or hurt its image and business? Is Howard Schultz “naive” to think such efforts are worthwhile? What should the company do in the face of all the criticism it has received?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

24 Comments on "Starbucks gets scalded with response to #RaceTogether campaign"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

There are haters everywhere looking for content to spread and give their witty two cents worth. I didn’t see this as a PR stunt to increase business.

And saying Starbucks’ low wages are responsible for racial inequality is silly.

It was a bold move and uncharted territory. The fact it has gotten so much press means it has got people talking, and I don’t see how that was a bad thing.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Like the wise man said: “We judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions.”

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It is a statement about the terrible state of race relations in this country that even asking to talk about it meets with criticism and cynicism. I think racism was still here, lying dormant and a variety of circumstances have caused it to come back into the public eye.

One thing I know is that doing what’s right is not always popular. And having a successful business also makes you a target. So was Mr. Schultz naive? I think he was doing what he thought was right. Is he perfect? Of course not. I suggest he soldier on.

Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Not every good work will be universally applauded. That doesn’t mean it’s time to run away.

Tony Orlando
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Starbucks for the most part should be a haven for people to grab a coffee, sit with their friends, and play games on their laptop. I don’t need Starbucks to tell me how to treat people, and many others do not either. We are so overly politically correct, and Howard Schultz is naive IMO to think he is a champion of bringing peace to the world. Actions speak louder than words, and communities around the country are trying everyday to make their places safe, and I just don’t go for the way this was done.

We need real leaders to do the right thing, rather than preaching from a teleprompter, and maybe that could inspire others to see how to make things better. We as retailers should respect our customers of all races, and make them feel welcome, and that to me is a good way to go about things.

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

This is all a marketing and PR exercise. Perhaps this did come following a series of troubling events last year involving racial minorities around the country. I just don’t see what that has to do with Starbucks. I don’t think it will hurt Starbucks, but it has got us talking about them. Seems to be well-intentioned, but in business discussions of such matters are usually taboo and will trigger those who are sensitive to such discussions.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Bravo Howard Schultz. Unfortunately the push-back says something about America and it isn’t very pretty.

But if the idea was to start a conversation and highlight what is under the covers, he did it, and the push-back has made it much more successful.

Also great comments by Bob Phibbs and Paula Rosenblum.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
First of all Howard Schultz has already gotten part of what he wanted—consciously or unconsciously—and that is tons of free publicity reaffirming Starbucks as the thinking liberal’s coffee shop, dedicated once again to improving life in the communities it operates in. Will it help the business? Not very likely. Will it hurt the business? That’s also not too likely, outside of a few overtly racially polarized places. Is Howard Schultz naive? Not hardly. The danger? Starbucks is great at talking the talk but its efforts to walk the talk are often characterized by baby steps or steps backward. For example, the chain talks a good game about sustainability, but every day I see my local baristas tossing out a small mountain of milk jugs rather than recycling them. Ditto with ingredients. Since its acquisition of Teavana Starbucks has gone from making tea by grabbing tea bags from a single large bag holding lots of unwrapped tea bags to the kind of packaging you see in restaurants where every tea bag is individually packaged. The result?… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It’s getting so that you can’t say anything without rude people with their own agendas piling on to criticize you. Edmund Burke had two quotes that are fitting: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” and “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” I blame this latest nonsense in good part on the anonymity of rabble-rousing on the internet. I don’t think this campaign will help or hurt Starbucks. If we’re lucky, it may bring about some of the dialogue that is so necessary, but that people don’t dare discuss for fear of offending rude people. Schultz is not naive, and I agree that he should soldier on.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
7 years 6 months ago

This is a gutsy move by Starbucks. One can surely find something wrong with any one element or even the entire idea. Yet how do we break through and make progress on any deeply ingrained issue? It’s not by ignoring it or by relying on a governmental solution. It’s through dialogue and engagement—reasoned and civil, quite the antidote to what we see on the evening news every day.

Bravo for the courageous position by Starbucks and Mr. Schultz. We can disagree with how they are executing the idea, but imagine the new conversations that must be happening in Starbucks today that weren’t taking place the day before.

Raymond D. Jones
Guest
Raymond D. Jones
7 years 6 months ago

This just underscores the old rule about keeping politics and religion out of the business discussion. It seems that Starbucks touched a nerve that people would rather avoid, at least while they enjoy their latte.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

The campaign is not likely to have either a major positive or negative impact on business. The conversation started seems to be more about Starbucks than about race. Coincidentally that is good for business. Starbucks does try to stimulate discussion, does take a stand on issues and does not avoid controversy. What should Starbucks do? Maybe take action after stimulating a conversation.

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Ultimately it will help. Mr. Schultz will eventually be credited for his social awareness. Starbucks has never been a passive brand domestically or internationally—very good “think global, act local” practices. I feel the negative criticism will subside once the background behind the initiative becomes better known.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Simple answer—just stop trying to solve the problems of the world and speed up Starbucks’ customer service. Starbucks always seems to want to be in the noise space of the media. This is just noise. We are a country with many races and Starbucks cannot even dent this challenge. It’s too complex across each age group. Millennials may be Starbucks’ largest fan base but one thing these amazing Millennials or Gen Xers CANNOT do is solve the race challenges via their coffee shop where they get free internet.

Focus on your own problems, not world challenges.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Acknowledging and celebrating the entire human race is the only path for any business needing success to stay viable in its chosen market. The best retailers of any size know and practice this without announcements and commercials. Starbucks’ leadership is demonstrating that they are not just detached from the consumer but moving away from retail and headed into the land of total madness or politics. Or are we seeing the future of business practices morphing into an Orwellian benevolent dictatorship with wages being redefined as rewards? Consumers know there are a lot of places to get a cup of coffee with few or no strings attached, as in, a container with or without the suppliers message or identifier. And according to Starbucks’ sales the free thinkers might be moving on. With donuts and bagels taken, a move into pastries and away from politics might be better for the company and what is left of their customer base.

Ed Dunn
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Sorry but business and social issues are going to mix and the customer is more socially responsible and not going to be quiet in the era of social media. Starbucks has nothing to lose and everything to gain from these actions and starting this type of discussion. Most customers would be more concerned about doing business with those who have push back or want to maintain a status quo of staying quiet.

Lee Kent
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Having watched one of Mr Schultz’s interviews yesterday, I was taken in by his attitude. He seems to have put this out there as neither a marketing nor publicity gain. He did it because he thought it was the right thing to do and he’s ready for the bullets.

I loved it! Everythings gotta start somewhere!

And that’s my 2 cents.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Any time a business gets public on political issues there is trouble. This latest venture will only hurt Starbucks’ image. I see this as a waste of time, effort and money. When working with the public, taking sides usually results in loss of customers.

Mark Burr
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
First, I’ll just say that both cups of Starbucks I’ve purchased today are blank and void of the hashtag in grease pencil. Does that indicate anything? No. It just is. I watched Mr. Schultz presentation in its entirety. Was it naive? Not in the least. Was it honest or simple participation in a narrative? I’d suggest the later. Starbucks has a tradition of late of participation in the narrative. While in some way most of the comments made today have valid points on all views or considerations of the topic, perhaps Mr. Percy’s and Mr. Mathews’ comments are the most telling. While we should take Starbucks at its word that its work force is 40% minority, minority isn’t defined. If I look at the Starbucks I see, and we each see a different “Starbucks” based on our community, I don’t see it. I live in a fairly diverse community, and their two locations are surrounded by diversity. Yet, at both locations today, the baristas were 7 to 1 female to male and all of what… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

In #RaceTogether, Starbucks has discovered a way to leverage coffee-cup-as-media that has sent reverberations throughout the media-sphere. It’s easy to dismiss this as self-serving, but I don’t believe it will sell a single extra cup of coffee.

In fact, if it causes a slowdown in the morning rush, it might result in some justifiable push-back. But as customer experience pundit Micah Solomon said in a recent post, “Just because an idea’s easy to mock doesn’t make it wrong.”

I see this as part brand-equity play for Starbucks and part experiment designed to measure its ability to focus Americans on social issues. We’re all talking about this one now, but I suspect repeat campaigns will have less of an impact.

John Karolefski
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It’s important to continue a national conversation about race, but Starbucks is not the venue to exchange views while waiting on line and then hurrying out.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
7 years 6 months ago

Howard’s idea seems to be considerably less popular with actual customers and barristas (it’s being discussed on dozens of blogs and new sites both yesterday and today) than with retail consultants. It’s his company and he can do as he pleases. I only hope this does not start a trend with other retailers thinking that maybe they, too, want to start conversations with their customers about topics near and dear to their hearts such as cancer screening or global warming or marriage equality or abortion or veganism or the like.

Here’s my idea. Let’s stick to selling the best product possible employing trained, competent, cordial, and expedient customer service personnel.

Gajendra Ratnavel
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Interesting the author here seems to think no meaningful discussions happen in coffee shops. I wonder what the comfy sofas and chairs are there for if not to sit and chat.

Yes, a lot of people just buy coffee and leave, but there is a vast number of people just meet up for coffee and chat. Never mind the motive here. Starbucks is a for profit business, and the initiatives they take need to make business sense as well as serve the community. This certainly helps bring awareness and promotes open communication about it.

Good job Starbucks!

TONY TAFOYA
Guest
TONY TAFOYA
7 years 6 months ago

Howard Schultz is a bonehead. His responsibility is to serve good coffee, great service and a smile on all his employees’ faces. His job is not to bring race-related topics to those people who are there to purchase his coffee.

I think I will boycott his stores until he gets off this bandwagon and supports topics like helping those seniors in our country who are struggling and helping those poor school children who go to school without breakfast.

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

This will help Starbucks’ image, but they need to listen to the underlying issues which are being expressed…more money for their team. Why a retailer pushes such low wages, and has so many issues should come as no surprise. Come on Starbucks, listen to your employees and act on their complaints…hello black complaint box!!!

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Will Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign help or hurt its business?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...