Starbucks Coffee Deal Dramatizes Shutdown Stance
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz posted an open letter on the company's Web site on Monday, urging business leaders to help push Congress and the President to "put citizenship over partisanship for the sake of our country and the world at large."
Yesterday, he followed up by emailing a letter to Starbucks employees (and posted it on the company site) announcing that this Wednesday through Friday, Starbucks will give a free, tall brewed coffee to any customer who buys someone else a beverage.
"It's that simple — 'pay it forward,' and Starbucks will pay you back," Schultz wrote in explaining the offer. "I believe you will agree that this is a different yet authentic way Starbucks can help our fellow citizens Come Together by supporting one another during a particularly challenging time, while continuing to make Starbucks stores a place of respite and comfort for millions of customers."
Starbucks is now promoting the offer to its 4.6 million-plus followers on Twitter, using a #payitforward hashtag.
In his letter to business leaders, Schultz wrote: "Like so many of you, I find myself utterly disappointed by the level of irresponsibility and dysfunction we are witness to with our elected political leadership...I hope you share my view that it is our responsibility to address the crisis of confidence that is needlessly being set in motion. I’d like to encourage you to consider what your companies and organizations can do to help shift the norms of our country back toward civility, compromise and problem-solving," he wrote.
He said that Starbucks is planning actions "to galvanize our customers, inspire our people and encourage the communities we serve to come together to take care of each other," adding that in "uncertain moments such as these, it is time for us as citizens and business leaders to remind our employees and customers that we stand with them."
He continued: "Please join me in pleading for civility and a respectful, honest discourse among politicians to bring a solution to the current stalemate. I don’t pretend that both parties are equally to blame for this crisis. But, I do think they are equally responsible for leading us to a solution. We have to do what we can to mitigate and avoid the unintended consequences that the current political direction is leading the country and world toward. Let’s start by pushing for solutions and speaking out against posturing and blaming."
Prior to posting the open letter to business leaders, Schultz emailed it to other U.S. executives.
Schultz has often expressed his views on political or controversial issues, but, as AGBeat points out, this message is consistent with his typical approach of calling for "civility" and respectful solutions.
In 2011, for instance, he similarly called for the nation's lawmakers to find a solution to the debt-ceiling impasse.
While many companies are loathe to associate themselves with any controversy in today's often rancorous and divisive climate, Schultz's approach to activism has become part of the Starbucks brand's identity.
In March, after an investor suggested that Starbucks's support of same-sex marriage was hurting the company's financial performance, Schultz , during the company's annual meeting, responded by saying: "If you feel respectfully you can get a higher return [than] the 38% you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares at Starbucks and buy shares in other companies."
Starbucks became a focal point for both sides of the gun-control controversy by long allowing customers to carry guns into its stores in states where that is legal, but Schultz's recent decision to shift its policy by asking customers not to bring firearms into Starbucks cafes (without actively enforcing that request) seems to have won support even from gun advocates.
A national survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in late September found 66% of all Americans polled supporting Starbucks' new policy (versus 23% opposing it), and 52% of gun-owners supporting it (versus 35% opposing it). That's despite the fact that the poll also found 56% of gun owners opposing stronger gun-safety laws, versus 40% supporting those.
The response to Schultz's current call for constructive action by lawmakers — and the "pay if forward" coffee offer — remains to be seen. As of this morning, the coffee offer was too new to have generated much response on Starbucks's Twitter account. Some media outlets have already noted that his actions could be perceived by some as using a political issue for marketing purposes.
Speaking to NPR.org, Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for The NPD Group, said Schultz's actions "won't make a dent" at the political level, but is bound to resonate with younger people who admire brands that demonstrate a social conscience. "Will it work on the commercial end? Absolutely," Cohen said.