Commentary

Starbucks Tackles Another Big Issue

With its controversial “Race Together” program barely in the rearview mirror, Starbucks might be expected to steer clear of sweeping attempts to address awkward social issues -- but instead, the premium coffee giant is doubling down with a bold new effort to change the way Americans think and talk about arguably the most important issue of all: mortality. As with the previous campaign, it will include a multifaceted social media component.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz acknowledged that some customers might consider this an awkward subject, but said he will stay the course: “If there’s one thing most people would rather not think about, it's the inevitable demise of themselves and everyone they care for -- and that’s the whole point. Mental health professionals have characterized our society’s denial of death as a kind of mass cultural psychosis, which leaves us feeling helpless and unprepared when it finally comes time to grapple with these existential issues. What better place to jumpstart this conversation than Starbucks?”

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Like its previous effort, the nationwide initiative centers on Starbucks baristas engaging customers in a conversation about death and dying in order to get them to reflect on their own mortality. Baristas will encourage customers to join in the discussion by writing the campaign catchphrase “We’re All Going to Die,” on cups at the point of sale. Additional elements include posters, counter displays, and standees invoking traditional representations of death from cultures around the world.

Schultz went on: “As I said about our ‘Race Together’ initiative, this is not just some PR stunt. We are really trying to shake things up here, in a good way. That’s why I’m asking baristas to aggressively confront customers with the fact of their own mortality, even if it seems a little uncomfortable at first.”

While baristas will have wide latitude in how they approach this task, Starbucks has provided some suggested conversation starters and themes to engage customers. For example, they might invite customers to consider a printed passage from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who famously wrote: “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life -- and only then will I be free to become myself.” Others might ponder the words of Jean Paul-Sartre, a famous coffeehouse denizen who averred: “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.”

Schultz hopes these will be the starting points for wide-ranging discussions of our mortal condition: “Does your cosmology include an afterlife, and if so, does it involve a binary division between reward and punishment, or does it have some other nature? And what of reincarnation?”

In an introspective moment, Schultz wondered aloud whether his desire to bring transformative moments into people’s lives was, at least in part, his own attempt to grapple with the fleeting nature of human existence. Indeed, he said it put him in mind of the final stanza of Shelley’s great poem: 

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“I am Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 
3 comments about "Starbucks Tackles Another Big Issue".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 1, 2015 at 2:44 p.m.

    I cannot think of a more apt corporation to be pretentious.

  2. Stephanie Lynch from Company, April 1, 2015 at 2:49 p.m.

    April Fools, right? Right??

  3. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, April 1, 2015 at 8:05 p.m.

    LOL! Well done. You had me until, "We're all going to die."

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