Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Respect The Power

As a (former) marketing exec., one who worked with direct marketing (both snail-mail and email), lead generation, branding and to some effect, advertising, I find this whole recent debacle with Starbucks and their coupon offer to be very uncool. I'm sure many of you have seen or heard about this as it's had far-reaching effects.

Starbucks created a coupon for a free Iced Grande beverage (cool, right?!) if you redeemed the coupon at your local Starbucks between noon and 9pm. At least, tha
t's what the coupon sent to ME said. A friend had e-mailed it to me a couple of days ago. Sweet deal! Who wouldn't want a free Iced Coffee, and a Grande one to boot?? I sent it one to some friends and suggested that those of us who lived near one another plan to get together and redeem this bad boy together and enjoy a coffee date. Plans were made.

And then the Bad News followed, as it inevitably does.


It seems that Starbucks only intended this coupon to be used in the Atlanta area and was a special promotion for friends and family. Or something. But the coupon got sent to people far beyond their intended market(s) and were being redeemed all across the country. Oops. You see, nowhere on the coupon does a specific limitation appear. There is some mice type about it being good only at participating locations, but doesn't say which ones. Like only in the Atlanta area, for example, and only for certain people. So these lucrative coupons were showing up all over the place and Starbucks was initially honoring them. But THEN they changed their minds and issued this statement on their website:

An email offering a free Starbucks iced coffee was distributed to a limited group of Starbucks partners (employees) in the Southeast United States on Wednesday, August 23, 2006 with instructions to forward to their group of friends and family. Unfortunately, it has been redistributed beyond the original intent and modified beyond Starbucks control. Effective immediately, this offer will no longer be valid at any Starbucks locations.

We apologize for any confusion and inconvenience as a result of this offer.

Contact Information:

Starbucks Customer Relations (800) 23-LATTE

It even made my local paper:
http://www.oregonlive.com/business/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/business/1156906518265440.xml&coll=7
and
http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/641806/coupon_isnt_worth_beans_at_starbucks/index.html?source=r_technology

And that is total bullshit right there. They f*cked up with the coupon and now won't honor it. They made the mistake of not being specific enough, and of not respecting the power of the internet, and now they're caught with their pants down. Most companies would cream their pants to have such a successful viral internet campaign. Too bad, Starbucks. Some employee in your marketing department dropped the ball, clearly, but this coupon is something you should make good on. Fire the employee, but don't piss off the public. Because now? Now you come across as greedy. What will happen is now people will try to redeem the coupon, be denied, and leave without anything. When if you had just honored the coupon they would have likely ALSO purchased something to go with it. I know I was planning on meeting my friends and getting the free drink, but I also would have been buying a kiddie drink for my kids and likely a muffin or something else to snack on. And the mark-up alone on those items would have more than covered your cost for my free drink. But now? Now I'm annoyed and will NOT being going to Starbucks and will instead plan my outing to a different coffee shop with my friends. A coffee shop who keep it's promises, even if they are unintended.

Yes, the employee in charge of creating this promotion did a bad job. They completely botched it. While I've not personally messed up a project like this, this is EXACTLY the type of project I've been responsible for in my working past and know there are a million and one details that must be addressed before sending something like this out. When you flirt with the internet offers, you must assume they will be sent to places you never even considered. You must consult your legal team BEFORE such an action is taken. You must assume that someone, somewhere you never thought would be included, will be, and will make things complicated. It's your JOB to think 3 steps ahead and plan for such contingencies. But it still had your name on it, Starbucks, and you should honor it just the same. Yes, it sucks for you. But not "doing the right thing" will hurt you more in the long run than just giving the world a free cup of coffee. The goodwill you could have created in now completely in the crapper. While I'm confident this has been a nightmare for you, you should have stepped up and turned lemons into lemonade. You're thinking too short-term, Starbucks. If you're goal is to generate more business in the smaller markets with such an offer, think of the business you could have generated everywhere else, too, with this coupon. I don't waste money on lattes very often. Too expensive and too many calories. Can't afford either. But with a coupon such as this, I would have come to your store. I would have made a special trip, and I would have spent money. Money I don't normally spend. You would have seen a profit from me that day, Starbucks, and now you won't. Was it really worth it to rescind your offer?? Really? Because I don't think it was. Even though there are whackjob out there who would do everything they could to take advantage of such an offer, the vast majority of people would have just used it once for a single cup of free coffee. I think turning these people away put a small black mark on your name instead of making you look like a cool hero.

Bad choice. Bad business.

Shame on you, Starbucks.

Comments:
Oh how dumb are they? This would have been a relatively inexpensive way to garnish favour, and talk about their product. And what a dumb plan in the first place -- of course people would forward it on! I think someone at the place needs to take Marketing 101
 
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