Starbucks Coffee is pulling the plug on the cup-writing aspect of its controversial “Race Together” initiative after an intense social media backlash.
The campaign — which encouraged barista to hand-write the slogan “Race Together” on coffee cups served to their customers as a conversation starter about race relations in America — prompted widespread mocking and ridicule on Twitter and in the news media. The immediate blowback was so intense that a Starbucks executive deleted his Twitter account.
Against the backdrop of Ferguson and other incidents, the initiative from the world’s biggest coffee chain aimed to improve empathy, equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in America. The marketplace had other ideas, however.
“The campaign was met with skepticism on social media, with many complaining the company was overstepping it boundaries with a campaign on sensitive cultural topics that had no place in the coffee shop’s lines,” Reuters explained.
The bottom line for most Starbucks customers who weighed in on the controversy was that they just wanted their coffee without a “side” of awkward diversity dialogue. A Starbucks spokesman, however, denied that the coffee cup sloganeering aspect of the campaign was dropped because of consumer pushback, which likely included lost revenue from those customers getting their caffeine fix elsewhere. “Nothing is changing. It’s all part of the cadence of the timeline we originally planned.”
In an internal memo to employees posted online today, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stated that “While there has been criticism of the initiative — and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you — let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise.”
He claimed that this aspect of the campaign — “which was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer term conversation” — was originally planned to end today, but other Race Together activities are moving forward this year. Schultz promised among other things to open more Starbucks stores in urban neighborhoods, the lack thereof being a focus of some of the criticism heaped on the company.
“Hopefully this means Starbucks is doing away with their awful plan to display a list of race ‘conversation starters’ by the register, which included bizarre Mad Libs-style statements like ‘In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race ___ times,'” the Eater surmised.
Summing up the Starbucks Race Together fail, The Economist opined that “Americans’ instinctive disdain for Race Together seems to be rooted in the sense that Starbucks was appropriating a serious social issue for its own economic gain. The company’s sudden concern for racial issues essentially seemed like a marketing gimmick.”
According to the Washington Post, 16 of the Starbucks’ 19 top executives are white.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News]