Reasons Why Starbucks’ Political Campaigns Frequently Fall Flat

Starbucks and politics don't mix

Mother Jones took the time to dig into six Starbucks campaigns that addressed political issues and ultimately resulted in absolutely nothing. Mind you, these campaigns made some noise. People knew about them. They were discussed in the media. But they did nothing in the way of alleviating the problems they were meant to address. The most recent fail was the “Pay It Forward” campaign that asked customers to sign a petition to end the debt ceiling debate and somehow tied free cups of coffee into the idea of unity.

A spokesperson for the company, Zack Hutson, said the company just wanted to “encourage kindness and civility.”

That unity theme popped up in last year’s “Come Together” campaign in which baristas wrote the words “come together” on customers’ cups and in some way that I’m not sure I understand, there was a “Fix the Debt” message.

Then there was the 2008 campaign where they gave away free coffee to people who voted, until they found out that that campaign violated election laws. LOL.

So clearly the first problem is that these campaigns don’t make much sense. The second is that someone in legal needs to be fired. But the third problem might go to the root of the repeated fails.

That problem: These campaigns have nothing to do with what Starbucks does. Yes, the debt affects all of us. And everyone should vote. But it’s difficult to make the mental leap from lattes to casting a ballot. Or cappuccinos and the national debt. And these campaigns aren’t helping us make that connection.

There is one initiative highlighted that has a stronger tie. Back in the fall, Starbucks published an open letter asking people not to bring their guns to restaurants. Pro-gun advocates were going into restaurants with their pistols in plain view and people on both sides of the issue were gathering at Starbucks restaurants to demonstrate their beliefs. The Starbucks brand had become linked to issue. But in this case the company said “this is a request and not an outright ban.” So it didn’t rise to the level of a campaign. And if someone walked into a cafe with a gun, it doesn’t sound like Starbucks would do anything about it.

Which brings us back to the big problem. The company has a section focused on some of its CSR efforts, but there isn’t a big initiative surrounding those issues that we know of at the moment. Many food and beverage companies tend to focus their philanthropy to address issues like hunger or clean water because those are things that the brand has expertise in. And the brand itself can institute a new practice or policy that helps solve the problem it wants to address. Starbucks’ political campaigns don’t do any of this. So until Starbucks starts making the case for why it’s an expert in Congressional unity, it’s going to keep failing.