photo credit Starbucks

photo credit Starbucks

Starbucks’ Race Together campaign has been a hot button in the news this week for good reason.  If you haven’t heard about the campaign, Starbucks baristas have the option to hand customers cups on which they’ve written “Race Together” and start a conversation about race.

According to the campaign was announced in a full page ad in USA Today this past Sunday and will be supported by a series of inserts in USA Today over the next several weeks.  USA Today, Starbucks’ partner for the initiative, has a print circulation of almost 2 million.

race together usa today ad

Full page ad in USA Today announcing Race Together campaign

The campaign promptly blew-up in Starbucks’ face with critics blasting the campaign.  Their Communications VP, Corey duBowra, briefly deleted his Twitter account.  He later re-activated the account and issued an explanation on  More about Corey and his Twitter account in a bit.

Being a marketer at heart, I kept thinking about where the campaign went wrong and what they could have done better.

Where did Starbucks go wrong?

Of course race relations are important to discuss, but the program was flawed from the start for the obvious reasons of people just wanting to get their coffee and get out, increased wait times and potential  in store conflicts.

In addition to the logistical flaws, the program, as it was explained in the Forbes article, could be significantly richer with a few slight adjustments.

  1. Move the conversation away from the baristas / long lines and into the customers’ lives

Instead of having baristas try to initiate conversations with random customers who may or may not be interested in engaging back, leverage the weekly inserts, coffee cups, bags, etc to pose a question or discussion topic of the week.  Include a vanity url to direct the conversation online as well as point people to relevant articles.  This way, consumers can read more and think about the topic on the way to work or talk about it over the water cooler.  I’m recommending the use of cups and bags because the inserts might be afterthoughts unlike the bags and cups that generally sit around on peoples’ desks for several hours, if not all day.

  1. Leverage digital channels a bit more

I haven’t seen the weekly inserts, but if they aren’t driving people online, they should be.  They should all include the #RaceTogether hashtag as well as a vanity url to drive the conversation online.  As mentioned above, the inserts will provide some information, but driving traffic online, in addition to the obvious benefit of increase traffic provides visitors with more information as well as a forum to discuss.

Additionally, the program’s micro site on lacks the ability comment on several posts and could be enhanced by adding a “discussion of the week” callout at the top of the page. (USA Today may have this planned once the first insert hits the market tomorrow.)

  1. Share the wealth

Starbucks, through their charitable foundation, has donated millions of dollars to causes such as youth programs, and access to clean water. Why not give a portion of proceeds during the campaign to charities that benefit minorities? Each week can benefit a charity that’s relevant to the weekly topic.

  1. Expand the conversation

Why stop at race relations?  There are so many other important topics – Gender inequality, GLBT, puppy mills, human trafficking, etc.  I would love to see this program refined and then expanded to other topics.

What they are doing right?

Starbucks has definitely generated a significant amount of attention for both the company and the topic.

The micro site on is also very slick.  It includes quizzes, videos and articles about race relations.  As mentioned before, the site could be a bit more interactive.

Corey DuBrowa’s Twitter Account

Oh Corey, I would expect that the SVP of a world class organization like Starbucks would know not to hide from the haters by deleting your account.  I know it was a knee jerk reaction and kudos to you for getting back online.  Here are some tips on how to handle Twitter trolls in the future.

Also, you might want to re-think the Twitter avatar.  The suit is a bit pretentions and your crossed arms and harsh facial expression say, I’m important, and too good to talk you and #racetoegher. Try something a bit more causal, uncross your arms, authentically smile and move the shoot into a Starbucks.  Bonus if there are people in the background – at least one!  The current shot makes it look as if you stand alone and are not part of a team.

And when you are updating your avatar, take out that line about dancing.  It makes no sense.

What am I missing?  Do you think Starbucks is right brand to start these water cooler discussions?  How could they do so more effectively, comment below and let me know what you think!