Starbucks gets political


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Starbucks gets political

  1. 1. Starbucks Gets Political, Could Win Marketing PointsBy Christine Birkner, staff writercbirkner@ama.orgStarbucks got plenty of media buzz last month when CEO Howard Schultz pledged to boycottpolitical donations and help boost the economy by creating more jobs. Brands usually strive tostay politically neutral, but in this case, some experts say the Seattle-based coffee behemothcould be making a wise marketing play.In an e-mail to corporate leaders and the CEOs of stock exchanges NYSE Euronext and NasdaqOMX Group, Schultz called for a boycott on campaign contributions to President Obama andmembers of Congress in an attempt to get them to focus more on creating jobs and stop politicalinfighting, according to a report by Bloomberg. Schultz also said that Starbucks would work toboost job creation and asked other CEOs to do the same.The contentious political climate makes Schultz’s crusade a noble one and therefore reflectspositively on the Starbucks brand, says Gene Grabowski, senior vice president at Washington-based Levick Strategic Communications, a firm that specializes in public affairs and reputationmanagement. “If this were ordinary times, this kind of a ploy probably wouldn’t succeed, but theseare not ordinary times. [People] are decrying the lack of leadership and looking for leaders wherethey can find them. These CEOs are filling a perceived leadership vacuum … so the timing isperfect. The Starbucks brand is a very good fit with this movement. It can only help Starbucks,”he says.Harris Diamond, CEO of New York-based global PR firm Weber Shandwick, who has studied therelationship between politics and marketing, agrees. He says that Schultz “correctly tapped into asense of his consumers, which is that there are problems in Washington, there are problems withthe leadership. Howard Schultz is looking out for consumer interest. He’s saying politicians needto fix these problems and they need to create jobs.” Because Schultz’s position isnoncontroversial, it should help the Starbucks brand as well, Diamond says. “It’s very political, butit’s truly nonpartisan political. It’s good governance political.”However, some experts say that Schultz’s statements will have little consumer or brand impact.“His pronouncement will have between zero and no impact on their own brand. I’m not sure it willbe positive. It can be easily characterized as political rhetoric,” says Lou Rubin, CMO at NewYork-based CoreBrand, a firm focused on correlating branding to financial performance. But Starbucks’ case is unique because Schultz’s stance fits in with the coffee chain’saspirational image, according to Diamond. “Brands have a rare opportunity, sometimes, to meshwith public policy issues and when they do, if you can figure out a nonpartisan way of doing it andit fits into the image of your consumers, it’s always a great thing to do.”For more on politics and marketing, check out the Marketing News Exclusives story, “Why Politicsand Marketing Go Hand in Hand.”Marketing News Exclusives September 1, 2011
  2. 2. Marketing News Exclusives September 1, 2011