Typically, it’s never a good PR strategy for a commercial brand to mess with politics. From Chick-fil-A to Papa John’s pizza, showing allegiance to any part of the political spectrum will ultimately alienate, if not infuriate, a segment of the consumer base.
So we’ll be watching with trepidation and awkward admiration as Starbucks jumps feet first into American politics on December 28, when the coffee juggernaut’s baristas will write “Come Together” on the cups of its customers throughout the Washington, D.C. area.
The goal, of course, is to connect with the public’s outrage over an inept and feckless Congress and by doing so make a very public point about the need for political compromise in light of the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff’ that will prolong our collective sense of economic intractability and general gloom about our nation’s prospects.
But will it work? From a public relations standpoint, yes. Starbucks and CEO Howard Shultz take great pride in the brand’s corporate values. Though the company has seen its up and downs, its moral compass has always kept it spiritually centered. Starbucks has directly confronted social issues such as employee health insurance and environmental sustainability efforts, so supporters of Starbucks won’t see this latest political statement as being out of character for the brand. The public believes that Starbucks actually cares.
Also, Starbucks isn’t choosing sides here. This move won’t alienate customers because it is aligning with the general sentiment of the American public. We want results, not process, from both political parties. Brands that understand public relations are never tone deaf to what the public is thinking, and the public has been vocal about what is on its mind: fiscal cliff.
Lastly, the “Come Together” effort is only being implemented in the area around Capitol, where politics is part of everyday life. Chances are that more than a few interns will deliver a “Come Together” cup of Starbucks coffee to someone with political clout.
Will it make a difference? Who knows, but if it keeps them awake for another hour that can’t be bad, right?