Was Starbucks “Race Together” One of Biggest Corporate Blunders of All-Time?
While some say it actually worked because even more people were talking and thinking about Starbucks (if that's possible!) others say it's one of the biggest corporate blunders of all time.
In early March, Starbucks launched the "Race Together" campaign, in which baristas wrote "race together" on customers cups in an effort to spark a conversation about the state of race relations in the U.S. and around the world.
The brainchild of CEO Howard Schultz, it quickly exploded into a firestorm of controversy. Most consumers were irritated, infuriated and annoyed by what was perceived a serious overstepping of grounds. Many consumers took it as a slap in the face; believing Starbucks was insinuating non-minorities haven't or aren't doing enough to promote equality among ethnic groups. Most non-minority consumers felt the campaign insinuated that whites were racists or bigots.
Whatever their reasoning, the controversy was so bad, Starbucks announced they were ending the campaign last Sunday, March 22nd, less than two weeks after it started.
The blowup prompted The Times-Picayune Newspaper of New Orleans to publish a story comparing this blunder to other great corporate mistakes.
On their website, nola.com, the paper compared Starbucks folly to several legendary examples of how corporations lost touch with the opinions and thinking process of their clientel. Some of the blunders have included:
*Lululemon Sporting Goods yoga pants "fat thighs. In 2013, this Canadian sportswear giant (they are one of, if not the leader in women's exercise clothing including yoga pants) produced a new line of yoga pants so sheer that when stretched you could see through them. Then founder and Chairman Chip Wilson threw gas on the fire by saying in a television interview that people with fat thighs would cause their pants to be too sheer. His comments went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Despite Wilson's apology and eventual resignation, the company's stock dropped over 9% immediately; although last year the company had rebounded and actually exceeded Wall St. expectations.
The New Coke. We are still talking about this one. In fact, cans of "new Coke' are considered collectors items if you can find them. In 1985, after months of testing and research, Coke felt it was time to mess with success. At that time they were the top-selling soda in the world. However, the tweak to the formula and taste of the product with New Coke was met with an immediate firestorm. Coke quickly re-introduced the original taste under the name "Coca-Cola Classic" and kept trying to sell both brands, but eventually New Coke went away.
New Coke is actually included in some business and marketing textbooks in college as the template for how NOT to market a product or campaign.
The GAP Logo. The GAP logo has been one of the most iconic brands in the world, the navy blue box with the word GAP in white letters. But back in 2010, the company goofed by tweaking the logo. The company name was in black, with a small blue box overlapping the "P." Despite initial rejection by consumer testing, the company ran with it, but quickly heard a roar of objections from their consumers. One might not think a logo is that big of a deal, but marketing experts say many brands succeed because consumers identify with the logo and consistency. Experts say it was another example of a company not realizing how consumers think, or the importance of brand loyalty.
Only time will tell if Starbucks irritated away enough consumers to make their profits or stock fall. Most experts say although Race Together was a bad idea, it did succeed in getting people to talk even more about the world's biggest coffee retailer-which is the eventual goal of advertising in the first place. Guess they think there's no such thing as bad publicity.