Heard about Starbuck's "Cheer Chain" phenomenon? It's when someone spontaneously starts a pay-it-forward chain reaction of goodwill, such as buying coffee for the stranger behind them.
Cheer Chain stories are suddenly popping up all over media, including Fox News and Good Morning America, which coincidentally happened at the same time as the company’s “Pass the Cheer” ad campaign. To promote the campaign, Starbucks is handing out “cheer passes” of free coffee or gifts to random customers so they pass on the goodwill to others.
Starbucks claims the sudden spike in media coverage is unsolicited. Just the media doing their job, reporting on holiday goodwill stories this time of year, they argue. The cynics, such as The Consumerist Blog, are challenging that claim, calling it a lame PR stunt.
So I called a friend who works for one of Starbuck’s marketing agencies to get the inside scoop. He said he did partake in a guerilla marketing campaign, handing out cheer passes and other goodwill gestures to strangers in the streets and stores in an effort to ignite a cheer chain. When asked if Starbucks PR was actively pitching these so-called “phenomenon” stories to media, he pleaded the Fifth, but did say Starbuck’s PR agency was involved in the campaign in some undisclosed way.
My take is, what’s the big deal? It’s not like Starbucks is being less than transparent in the intent of the cheer pass campaign. Whether the phenomenon starts organically or is the result of street-level marketing manipulation, who cares? The resulting goodwill is the same. And who would fault Starbucks PR for shopping the story around to media? If it’s true the company is planting stories but denying it, why? What do they have to lose by pretending cheer chain stories are self seeding?
BONUS: To put you in the holiday spirit, check out this parody blog post of celebrity chef Ramsay Clark boasting how he broke the Starbucks cheer chain. (Contains profanity)