Starbucks’ Twitter Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong

Starbucks’ Twitter Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong

Remember McDonald’s recent failure of a hashtag campaign: #McDStories, in which tweeters everywhere responded by telling stories about horrible experiences at the restaurant chain? Well, another major fast food chain has suffered a similar fate: Starbucks.

another-branding-technique-twitterIn an effort to spread brand recognition and take advantage of the holiday season, Twitter launched a hashtag of their own: #SpreadTheCheer. The launch of the campaign was badly timed, however, because around the same time the UK headlines proclaimed that Starbucks had only paid $13.8 million in taxes despite $4.9 billion sales in Britain.

Consumers used Starbucks’ hashtag to attack the coffee giant by saying things like “I like buying coffee that tastes nice from a shop that pays tax. So I avoid @Starbucks#spreadthecheer” and “Why not #spreadthecheer by paying your taxes in full Starbucks? You leeching, parasitic scum.”

To make matters worse, the tweets were publicly displayed live on a giant screen at the Natural History Museum in London, where Starbucks sponsors the ice rink.

And to make things even worse than that, Starbucks did not address the issue on their Twitter feed, as though the coffee giant were plugging their ears. This was a big mistake on their part, since Starbucks did in fact respond to the criticisms by choosing to pay more taxes than required by law over the next two years.

Tweeters not only bashed Starbucks’ low tax rates, but their labor policies as well, since, according to the Guardian, Starbucks plans to cut paid lunch breaks, sick leave, and maternity benefits for many of its employees in the UK.

Starbucks told the Huffington Post they apologized to anybody who might have seen profanity at the Natural History Museum, because a “temporary malfunction” allowed them to leak through the profanity filter.

Marketers should take note: social media campaigns do not exist in a vacuum. With the entire internet at their fingertips, today’s consumer relies on far more than marketing materials and online behavior to find information about brands.

The biggest mistake Starbucks made with this campaign was the failure to address the criticisms, pretending that the issue had not been raised. Ignoring the consumer voice is no longer an option. Brands can not control the conversation, they can only respond and play a part in the conversation amicably.

Starbucks made a big mistake failing to pay a fair tax rate, but they also missed out on a big opportunity to be seen as human by responding to the criticisms with honesty and compassion.

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