By: Jacob Paul

During a time of high racial-tensions in the U.S. after the tragic killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by police and the riots in Ferguson, Starbucks decided to launch their #RaceTogether campaign. In an attempt to get customers talking about racial issues around the nation and bring positive publicity to their brand, Starbucks printed full page ads in the New York Times and USA Today announcing their campaign and began encouraging their baristas to write the words #RaceTogether on coffee cups when serving customers.

A Starbucks holding a cup with #RaceTogether written on it.

Photo originally published by AdWeek

 Although the #RaceTogether was intended as a positive message to help raise social awareness and unite people of all races, social media sites began erupting with negative backlash immediately following the announcement of the campaign’s launch. Critics and people on social media lashed out at the campaign for a variety of reasons, calling it a publicity stunt, short-sighted, self-righteous, racist, and plain unfair for their workersNegative backlash on twitter got so bad that the Starbucks SVP of Global Communications deleted his twitter account after claiming to have been receiving a large number of personal attacks on twitter, further hurting the campaign and Starbucks in the eyes of the public. More negative comments criticizing Starbucks’ PR Chief for deleting his account began pouring in shortly after, claiming that he wanted his baristas to handle discussions about race but deleted his own account once people began questioning him. As public outcry against Starbucks and the #RaceTogether campaign continued to snowball, Starbucks finally decided to pull the plug and brought the campaign to a close after only a week.

I believe the public’s response to Starbucks’ campaign is a clear indicator that it was a total failure. While Starbucks claimed their goal was to help unite people of different races together, all they really succeeded in doing was uniting everyone against Starbucks, itself. The campaign received wide-spread criticism from people of all races from the moment it launched, and did nothing to improve their public image.

I believe the campaign could have been improved in a number of ways. For starters, I think it was a bad move by Starbucks to launch a race-based campaign so soon after the riots in Ferguson. Although they may have had good intentions, doing so at such a time made it seem insincere, as if they were just trying to take advantage of a serious societal issue to gain publicity. If it was up to me, I would have changed the theme of the campaign, or at least waited for a better time to launch it. I also think it was a poor idea by Starbucks to pressure their employees to initiate conversations about race when serving customers. I think they would have been better off leaving their store employees out of it, or at least printing the campaign hashtag on the cup instead of asking employees to write it on coffee cups while serving customers. In the future, I think Starbucks would be better off basing their PR campaigns around less controversial topics.


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