Starbucks Challenge 2.0/IBM is Monitoring this Post
Not all Starbucks corporate types who send missives from above may be familiar with how to write a non-condescending, non-patronizing e-mail that makes those who read it want to pay attention to it rather than dismiss it and feel insulted by and alienated from their company and their "superiors".
It's no wonder that charming memo didn't do the trick. November has brought Starbucks Challenge 2.0 which is much like the first one... with "new prizes and goals." Many bloggers have joined in and even non-blogging civilians are welcome to join in the coffee-ordering, muckraking fun! City Hippy and green LA girl will be "in frequent contact with Starbucks" and then tell them about the results of the challenge and seek their reaction as well as "some concrete details as to what the company plans to do, if anything, in light of them." There's also a special call to Angelenos - one of the prizes is reserved for the person who visits the most Starbucks in L.A. County.
L.A. hasn't been singled out because we're the shiniest or the smoggiest, or even because we drink the most coffee. green LA girl has bestowed this honour upon L.A. because "the Starbucks in Los Angeles have had pretty much the WORST record of all cities in which the Starbucks Challenge was taken. Out of 18 challenges taken in the city proper (sorry, Culver City, Santa Monica, and Pasadena), only 7 fair trade cups of coffees were received -- and most of those came only after much insistence, cajoling, and education done about Starbucks' policies on the CHALLENGERS' part."
I have mixed feelings about the challenge. Like all other humans, I often find myself suddenly in a Starbucks. I have bought music from them, and plenty of drinks, but not so much recently... Given my druthers (and please do give them back at your earliest convenience), I'd just as soon buy drinks elsewhere. There are a lot of convenient alternatives. Starbucks is a big corporate bad guy. They drive small, non-generic coffee shops out of business. They try to perpetuate the idea that "tall" is "small" and one day people might believe it's true. green L.A. girl acknowledges that some people have these sorts of feelings (not necessarily the "tall" thing, I can't be sure). She says "Regardless of politics, most of us agree on one thing: If a company makes a promise, it should stick to it." I'm down with that.
There is definitely value in drawing attention to Starbucks' failure to live up to its promises. At the same time, in the short-term, the challenge puts money in Starbucks' coffers and gives them some publicity (is there no such thing as bad publicity?). Might this help Starbucks prosper in the long-term as well, and if so, what are the ethical ramifications? Some of the "challengers" seem to be helping educate employees about their employer's fair trade coffee policies. They're essentially acting as unpaid Starbucks employees, providing training that Starbucks could easily provide itself.
If the challenge helps the fair trade policies at Starbucks become reality, and Starbucks is able to better exploit them for commercial gain, they could wipe out more small coffee shops. However, fair trade coffee farmers and their families would benefit. If they get enough money, they might choose to help improve their communities as well. If so, maybe that's a worthwhile enough gain to be "worth" losing independent coffee shops. Maybe the people who used to own their own coffee shops (and their employees) could go work at all the new Starbucks and would enjoy not having to worry about trying to keep a small business afloat anymore. Life has few easy answers. I'd like to join a challenge pursuing more easy answers.
Hey, despite my misgivings about Starbucks and life's lack of easy answers, I took the challenge! (I'm not in it for prizes, though I might well hit another Starbucks or two...) I took part because I'm all for corporate responsibility, and I was curious about what would happen. For the truly stubborn, I think for the challenge you should be able to ask if you could get a cup of fair trade coffee without ordering it... that should at least be an option. I'm not that cheap, though, and I don't know that I'm that hardheaded/annoying/principled, either!
I went to a Starbucks in downtown Burbank, at 300 N. San Fernando Road (very close to an Urban Outfitters, which is why I was in Burbank. I was buying Give. Listen Help. and listening to inane chatter). I asked for a tall cup of fair trade coffee and the woman told me they didn't have fair trade coffee anymore. She sought confirmation from her co-worker and got it. She repeated that they don't have fair trade coffee anymore. I told her about the challenge, and that everyone was supposed to be able to get fair trade coffee. Her eyes opened with something at least resembling a moderate concern but she again said they didn't have it anymore. She then offered to french-press me a fresh pot of the "equivalent" of Fair Trade coffee. She named a blend, and darn it, I didn't make a note of it (bad blogger!) and after perusing the blends at Starbucks' website, I'm not sure enough of a "match" to name one. I didn't know what she meant by "fair trade equivalent"; and I didn't know that any explanation she gave me would be trustworthy. I'm undereducated on the "fair trade equivalent"; thang... it might be legitimate, but I had no way of knowing on the spot whether she was just trying to say something to make me happy... Lesson: go in better-informed! I said "No, thank you", took my dolly*, and went home.
Starbucks is wrong to not live up to its promises, but smart to pay such close attention to bloggers. IBM will now help corporations keep an eye on what bloggers are saying about them -- and not just bloggers . IBM's new Public Image Monitoring Solution software "monitors and analyzes blogs, wikis, news feeds, consumer review sites, newsgroups and other community-generated content" and "assesses the tone of blogs and posts: positive, negative or neutral." But wait, there's more! It also identifies hot topics of discussion. I helped Starbucks out with some free employee relations consultation. I'll give IBM some free assistance coding this post. NEGATIVE: Starbucks, IBM, Phillip Morris. I live to give. (Aside to "real readers": I know I wrote nothing about Phillip Morris in this post. I thought I might as well add a layer of confusion to their analysis. Fight the power, guys!)
*No actual dolly was involved in the events surrounding this article. This article should be coded as NEUTRAL toward any and all doll-related corporations such as MATTEL.
Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" is just way too obvious. It would be like posting "I Want Candy" on Halloween.
David Bowie - 1984 (from the Platinum Collection. OK, last Bowie-related song for a while! Probably)
Garbage - Cup of Coffee (from Beautiful Garbage)
Sarah Harmer - Coffee Stain