Denver’s Cultivator Advertising Apologizes for Local Coffee Shop’s Campaign Celebrating Gentrification

By Erik Oster Comment

Denver agency Cultivator and client Ink! Coffee are facing backlash for a curb sign campaign making light of the gentrification of the Colorado coffee shop chain’s location in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood on the northeast side of downtown Denver, which the Denver Public Library writes was “The Seat of Denver’s African-American Community” for much of the city’s existence.

The offending sign read “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” on the front and “Nothing Says Gentrification Like Being Able To Order A Cortado” on the back.

While the NAACP demanded the sign be removed, The Chicago Tribune reported that it was “quickly stolen by a skateboarder” before Ink! took any such action. Social media was quick to react, with many expressing disgust and vowing to boycott the chain. There have also been protests in front of the store.

The company’s initial reaction was to offer up a joke “apology,” claiming its actions could be attributed to drinking too much of its own coffee.

Shortly after that, Ink! issued a more sincere apology, tweeting: “Our (bad) joke was never meant to offend our vibrant and diverse community. We should know better. We hope you will forgive us.”

According to The Denver Post, someone had broken a window and spray-painted “White Coffee” at the location’s storefront by the next day, as well as “a smaller, more profane message written on the store’s main sign.”

Ink! founder Keith Herbert subsequently wrote another apology on the brand’s Facebook page that seemed to shift a bit of the focus toward Cultivator. From that note:

“When our advertising firm presented this campaign to us, I interpreted it as taking pride in being part of a dynamic, evolving community that is inclusive of people of all races, ethnicities, religions and gender identities. I recognize now that we had a blind spot to other legitimate interpretations. I sincerely apologize – absolutely and unequivocally.”

Cultivator Advertising issued an apology their own, entitled “An Open Letter to Our Neighbors.” In it the agency admitted that the campaign was “callous, naive and uninformed to the true character of the neighborhood and to those who have long called it home.”

The agency claimed it intended the effort as “a cynical perspective on the rapid development of our RiNo District neighborhood,” but instead “uncovered an enormous blind spot on the true meaning of gentrification and its most legitimate and honest interpretation.”

Responses to that post have so far been overwhelmingly negative.

A tipster pointed to Cultivator Advertising & Design having “zero diversity” as one possible reason for this fiasco.

Mad Men-themed “Seasons Greetings” agency holiday card from 2009  shows  a ratio of women to men which Adland’s Dabitch wrote “seems to honestly be stuck in the 1960s” — a comment which appears to still apply to the rest of the agency’s demographics as well.

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