Starbuck's hiding the holiday cheer?

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)



I realize it's not a bad marketing campaign - nad overall supposed to be seend as something lighthearted and happy during the holiday season.

But any guerrilla marketing campaign that hijacks people's goodwill and uses it for self serving interests still leaves me sour. I like my advertising like I like my coffee. Black, and non-diluted.

It also speaks volumes to the media outlets who cover this without probing further to see whether or not they're covering a true human interest story, or basically giving a company free press.

Call me a cynic, but when someone offers me something for free, (like people coming up to me selling MLM schemes or religion - i'm always the skeptic.

# Posted By james | 12/20/07 9:52 AM
Good point, James. But keep in the mind the genesis of this whole campaign was a real-life spontaneous reaction of good will from a Starbucks customer (well, according to Starbucks) who triggered a 2-hour chain cheer after she bought a coffee for an impatient, honking driver in the car behind her in the drive-up window lane. It's not like Starbucks fabricated the entire concept (I hope). The origins were genuine.
- Steve
# Posted By Steve | 12/20/07 11:28 AM
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# Posted By Jennifer Dobins | 12/20/07 2:06 PM
So ... here's a thought ... even if Starbucks started this ... if you were the guy in the car honking ...having a bad day and then magically someone bought you a coffee and it changed your attitude for that moment -- enough so that you bought a coffee for the person behind you ... then it did start a cheer chain ... it worked ... and it made people happy for a moment and if it is a little self-serving... and they associate their happiness with Starbucks ... well...isn't that why you run campaigns? You do some good, you get some benefit .... maybe we're all a little too cynical and we should just take this as a nice thing that happened during the holiday season. (Then again, I'm from Canada and since Tim Horton's is kind of our place of coffee worship ...I wonder why no one has handed me an extra large double double to wipe the grinch look off my face???!!!) (by the way - our PR agency doesn't handle the Tim Horton's account, just for the record.)
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