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Starbucks Asks, Are You In?

January 25, 2009

You and Starbucks.  It’s bigger than coffee.  So says Starbucks in its grass roots movement offering free coffee to people who pledge five hours of community service this year.  They tapped into the social change and togetherness moment called for by President Obama, Community Organizer in Chief.  The promotion is simple.  Promise to volunteer five hours in your community and the store gives you a free coffee.  Interested but clueless?  Go online to find out where you can volunteer in your community.   The effort got a major push from Oprah; read the Ad Age article on the Oprah Effect and the major play the promotion got on her show.  They touched Oprah and gained her support by aligning with her values and the cultural moment at hand.

I was touched by this promotion with no help from Oprah.  I don’t watch Oprah.  But I do go to Starbucks once or twice a week.  So I found out about the promotion at “my Starbucks” with a basic low key isle display with some signage and pledge cards.  I took one, flipped it over, felt good about the brand because it aligns with my values and the cultural moment at hand, checked “mentor a teen” on the card because I volunteer as a Big Sister,  marched up for my free coffee and purchased some over-priced-yet-beautifully-packaged snacks, popped the “I’m in” sticker on my coat and proceeded to tell everyone in The Lair about the cool happening at Starbucks.

As we’ve been discussing, the best ideas are simple and work at all points of contact.  This basic promotional idea of free coffee for good works is powerful however you encounter it.  And it just gains strength as a traffic driver and branding message with multiple contacts and exposures in different contexts.  It’s essentially a reprise of their vote and get free coffee promotion, suggesting a commitment to promotions that are, as they said, bigger than coffee.  Which is a good place for the “third place” community coffee shop to be.

Ironically, I’m off to Coffee Cartel to hang out with my Little Sister.  She likes their caramel lattes better than Starbucks and they have free wi-fi.  And supporting local coffee shops helps our community, too.  But Starbucks has stayed relevant in my little world and as long as they keep making Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate and doing good things, I’ll keep visiting my Starbucks on Kingshighway.

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