Starbucks ‘DuffinGate’ Controversy Continues Unabated

However you may feel about Starbucks coffee, the brand and its CEO Howard Schultz are brilliant at identifying the latest cultural trend and turning it into a marketing opportunity. This week the chain sponsored a petition urging our government to “Open It Back Up” and included some sort of deal in which customers get a free coffee if they buy one for someone else (which doesn’t make too much sense but it’s brilliant all the same).

In the UK, however, one of the brand’s latest campaigns tastes a little bitter—much like its coffee.

Starbucks wanted to spark a new sort of “cronut” craze by combining a jelly donut with a muffin and calling it a “duffin”. They liked the idea so much they tried to trademark its name. Unfortunately, the product wasn’t entirely new: Nigella Lawson proposed it some time ago, and a little London bakery called Bea’s of Bloomsbury had reportedly been selling a pastry they called “the Duffin” for two years. They weren’t too happy about this latest development—so they did what little underdog businesses do and created the #duffingate hashtag. It’s DIY PR.

A quick Twitter search will show you that the story shows no sign of dying down after several days; today Bea’s proprietor started her own feed to better address the controversy. So far, the only word from Starbucks is this statement from its marketing spokesperson:

“Since launching, we have discovered there are other duffins out there in the UK, including at Bea’s of Bloomsbury… however we’d like to make it clear that neither Starbucks nor Rich’s Products has suggested to Bea’s of Bloomsbury that they will attempt to stop them selling their own duffins.”

So the company is well aware of the controversy, and they were even aware of it when they officially launched the pastry one week ago, because the original blog post reads:

“We loved the idea and it seems like others did too, in fact since we launched it nationwide last week we’ve started to hear about a few other versions out there, we’re sure they all taste great…”

So why did they need to try and trademark it in the first place? The very word (which no one should own) has now become a big headache for Starbucks, who are obviously hoping the public forgets. The company doesn’t necessarily need to issue some big apology, but wouldn’t it be better to abandon the campaign altogether?