Pandora Jewelry’s Mother’s Day commercial is the perfect example of brand reinforcement

Moms… they are uniquely ours and we are uniquely theirs. And the day to celebrate them and all that they do for us, is just around the corner. Some may tout Mother’s Day as a “hallmark holiday” but the gesture to give them a day to be appreciated will leave most of us reminiscing on our favorite mom memories. With the fondness that grows from such memories, advertisers know that the holiday is prime time to put to use emotional strategies that will pull on consumers’ heartstrings.

Last year American Greeting’s produced a Mother’s Day video called “World’s Toughest Job”. The ad, created out of staged video interviews, caught candidates’ reactions as the interviewer described the job, saying it consisted of standing on your feet 135 hours a week, waiting to eat until the associate had finished eating, and of course not being able to take any vacation.

The work the interviewer was actually describing was the work of a mom. The ad was suspenseful, surprising, but most of all heartwarming. On YouTube, the video has been viewed 23,415,263 times (as of Monday), and 13.8 million of those views were within the first 5 days of the video’s launch.

The ad was a viral phenomenon. (See this post by Mullen, the ad’s creative agency, to learn more about its viral effects.) But however much I enjoyed this ad, and I do like it very much, there is one issue I have with it. Does it transcend buying behavior? With the ending copy saying, “You might want to make her a card.” Does it reflect the American Greeting’s brand?

This year’s popular Mother’s Day commercial is produced by Pandora Jewelry, and although it has not become as much of a viral sensation as “The World’s Toughest Job”, we can argue that “The Unique Connection” ad does a better job of representing the Pandora Jewelry brand and message. Here is why.

It makes you feel something

Just like in the American Greeting’s ad, “The Unique Connection” captures real reactions. You cannot help but feel suspense and anxiety as the mothers worryingly watch their blindfolded child pick through the line of women. When the children pick the right mom, a sense of relief and happiness comes over the mother – as well as you the viewer. Mullen says, “the viewer is not just watching someone have an emotion; they are feeling this themselves.” It is these emotions that draw you into the moment and the meaning of the Pandora brand.

It showcases Pandora Jewelry – without you noticing

It was not until I had watched the commercial a few times and visited the Pandora website that I realized the moms were actually wearing Pandora Jewelry. I like that the commercial has been strategically shot to include the product, but not overwhelm the moment and message. It coincides very well with the purpose of the jewelry and the idea of the brand, which according to its website is to create jewelry that inspires women to express their individuality and story through their own special moments.

It plays off the idea of uniqueness, individualization, and customization

The success of both Pandora’s commercial and their product can be attributed to how the company actively embraces ideals found in postmodernity. As we collectively transcend from the modern to the postmodern era, “Marketing in a postmodern world” claims how the “self”, not the product, is the ultimate selling point.

Rather than showcasing a product mechanics, marketers are striving to persuade their audiences that their product is an extension of oneself. The pitching point being that buying/wearing/using this product becomes a reflection of one’s own personal brand.

As a result, individualization and customization have become reining themes in marketing, and ones that Pandora has zeroed in on. Pandora’s signature charm bracelet is marketed as a visual story of your life, the charms are selected based on your likeness, and they can be interchanged and rearranged to reflect your ever-changing experiences.

While the commercial did not promote the bracelet or other jewelry collections specifically, it still capitalized on the idea of individualization – that other than the scents, textures, and clothing that differentiate you from another, your jewelry choice can too.

Do you think the “The Unique Connection” is a great example of an on-brand ad? Which do you think had a more effective emotional strategy?

-Caroline Robinson & Savannah Valade

The Presidential Brand

With four presidential candidacy announcements thus far, and Election Day only a year and a half away, the inevitable is upon us – the political games have begun.

While it should be one’s political stance that matters most, the truth of the matter is that often times it’s personal image that wins the election. And there is no other time when branding is at its peak than during campaign season.

So far, three republican candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, and one democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, have volunteered as tribute to participate in the political spectacle that is the presidential race.

This week we’re taking a look at the contenders and who, from a marketing perspective, is leading the pack in initial campaign branding via their logo design and social/online activity.

Before candidates can start shouting their platform positions, first comes acquiring name recognition. And marketing professionals know there is no better way for a successful company/brand to have their name recognized and remembered than having a logo that correspondingly resonates.

While campaigns are not won or lost based on a logo, they remain a critical branding event.

Creating an easy on the eyes brand can pay big dividends, says Darren Samuelsohn in his article on candidate logo design. Candidates are desperately trying to reach attention-starved voters he says. A good logo will decide whether or not an email gets opened, what gets liked on social media, and what gets scrolled past.

“A strong brand identity can communicate your message and your values to a potential voter with a single glance, without you having to buy an ad or even say a single word,” said Patrick Ruffini, a GOP digital strategist who managed online efforts for the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection campaign.

So what makes a good political campaign logo? LogoDesignLove answers this question for us.

“It should have the same traits as any good logo — it needs to be appropriate for who or what it identifies, it should stand out amongst the competition, and it should be simple enough in appearance to be remembered after a quick glance.”


We’ll start by looking at the one that has gotten the most (and unfortunately negative) attention, Hillary Clinton’s logo, which features a blue capital H bisected by a red, right pointing arrow.

Clinton logo

Critics have been quick to chime in on various unsettling design points of the logo. First, while understandably aiming to be patriotic, the blue and red presented with no gradient changed, no blank space in between, and presented in a blocky pattern create a feel that many have called clunky, immature, corporate, and industrial.

The second major gaffe critics are quick to comment on is the use of a red, right facing arrow (red + right = republican) for a democratic candidate. However the right facing arrow isn’t necessarily signaling a political shift as some have suggested, it does make sense the arrow would point in the direction we naturally read.

clinton cartoon

There are still those who have voiced support for the design – creator of the “I ♥ NY” logo, Milton Galser is one. “It’s an effective piece of graphic design, because it encompasses the idea of her name and the idea of movement,” Glaser said. “That’s the stated objective of the logo, and it embraces what the campaign wants to say.”


Using block lettering, Rand’s logo features a solid red flame over his first name.

paul logo

Rather than sporting the tradition patriotism colors, Paul’s logo boasts red, white and black, rather than blue. Just like the others, there are mixed reviews on the appeal. Some support the look, praising it as simple, bold, and strong.

Karl Gude, a graphics professor at Michigan State University and former graphics artist at Newsweek and the AP, gave Paul credit for choosing an image that he says, “stands out from the jingoistic, flag-waving logos inherent to presidential campaigns.

Commentary has also been appreciative of how the flame above the space of the “A” and “N” creates a clever reveal of a torch. However, some wish the reveal was still a little off the mark and wished to see a more highlighting. To the naked eye the flame simply looks like an accent mark, says Glaser of his review of Paul’s logo.

Yet, lead designer for Obama for America, Dan Carson, sees potential in the logo, “It will be interesting to see how they lean on this in the full design system, as it could serve as it’s own icon if done right.”


Ted Cruz is also using a flame theme, with his logo featuring a flame decorated in stars and stripes before his full name.

cruz logo

Reviews of the logo thus far feature both sophistication and confusion.

The teardrop shape of the flame combined with the American flag adornment have left many social media and professional critics comparing the logo to the likes of a burning flag – a worrisome association for someone running for presidential office.

However, knowing Cruz’s slogan, “Courageous Conservatives: Reigniting the Promise of America”, it is easy to see how the flame was chosen as an attempt to parallel and resonate his branding effort as a whole.

Despite some claiming the logo is reminiscent of The Onion, Tinder, and Al Jazzera, according to a new YouGov poll, Cruz’s logo is faring considering well in the court of public opinion, 63% said they liked the flame design.


Rubio’s logo is perhaps the most simplistic of the four, featuring a small, red silhouette of the continental US dotting the lower case “I” in his last name.


The basis for criticism in Rubio’s logo is within the keyword “continental”. Omission of Hawaii and Alaska angered many of the citizens. Senator Mazie Hirono even tweeted, “There’s no question @mariorubio’s priorities are out of line with what’s best for HI – he even forgot to include us in his campaign logo”.

Other than making sure not to alienate part of the electoral vote, an article by Vox highlights how Rubio’s logo also gives a lesson in the importance in typography.

“The all lowercase and sans serif type treatment speak to modernity and approachability,” says Richard Westendorf. “If Rubio wants to look like he’s more youthful and not stuck in the past (which the tagline seems to imply) it seems he’s hit the mark.”

However, while the lowercase font evokes youthful and hip connotations, the font showcases a kerning (spacing between letters) problem that most are probably oblivious to, but has designers squirming.

The article points out, “look long enough, and you’ll see it: m arc o ru bio.”

And while the space encroaching and engulfing is a flaw that most can probably move past, whether or not Rubio can signal national unity seems to be his biggest issue.


MarketingDive articulately puts logo efforts in perspective of the campaign as a whole, “the criticism underscores the fact that even seemingly minor decisions—like a font or color scheme—can cause significant reactions within a competitive campaign.”

Competitive campaigns not only demand you successfully create a brand presence, but also cultivate it. There is no better, nor more important, way to cultivate presence during elections than digitally. Digital strategy provides an outlet where conveying personal image is directly intertwined with campaign logistics.

The past two presidential elections have been pivotal in highlighting the role of reaching out to voters online. Being digitally present and active is essential. From tweets, to Facebook posts, to YouTube videos, social media is a campaign power tool both for the campaign team and for supporters.

“Whereas seeing a candidate on TV creates distance between the viewer and the subject, reading messages in one’s Twitter or Facebook stream, nestled amongst posts from friends and colleagues, creates a level of intimacy that is distinct from other media,” says Amina Elahi.

We will also take a look at how the candidates are using their digital voice to create conversation, what they are posting about, and how they are interacting across online communication channels.


With such high name recognition, as well as a long anticipated bid, Hilary made an interesting choice by officially announcing her candidacy not via boisterous rally, but by a low-key tweet and video message.

Having made an announcement via social channels would lead us to expect an emphasis on social outlets for her campaigning process, yet so far her approach is being called the “go-slow, go small” strategy. Advisers are saying the strategy plays to strengths – allowing her to meet voters in intimate settings where her humor and humility can show through.

Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at George Washington University, says that initial social media push doesn’t matter as much as it would for less well-known candidates. For Clinton he says, social media is a way not just to build support but also to test messages and themes.

However, in terms of support, Clinton seems to be topping her opponents. Her running announcement generated more social media traffic that all her Republican competitors combined. On Facebook she generated 10.1 million interactions from 4.7 million people that day, and her key tweet has been retweeted more than 100,000 times.


Rand Paul is no stranger to social media, but especially the twitterverse. Politico reporter, Katie Glueck, claims he has the most aggressive feed of the 2016 field – a feed that posts a steady steam of snark, rapid responses, and gimmicks.

Although he doesn’t post the tweets himself, according to his senior political advisor, he is deeply involved, seeing that social media is a key part of both engagement and reaching out to new consistencies.

Vincent Harris, Paul’s chief digital strategist said Paul has given his political team a straightforward mandate when it comes to social media, “You’ve got to be engaging, you’ve got to be entertaining, you’ve got to be different.”

As part of a broad tech savvy strategy, the team plans to use digital correspondence as a first place of communication “because that’s the world we live in,” says Harris. “The goal [is] branding. We live in a 24-second news cycle. And it’s important to insert yourself into that news cycle.”

Paul who used aggressive social media strategy before his announcement, shows no sign of changing during the campaign process. After his announcement speech, Paul scheduled a digital town hall on Facebook, and asked supporters to share photographs of themselves holding “Stand With Rand” signs that his team designed and distributed online.


Cruz also showed signs of employing a campaign strongly presented on social media, as similarly to Hilary, also announced his candidacy via Twitter.

Valerie Caras, a digital strategy manager for Ceisler Media, thinks the social media stratagem makes sense, both in engaging potential voters as well as monitoring them. “They’ll be able to capture, in real time, supporter sentiment, what issues they think he might have, his biggest strengths,” Caras says. “They’ll be able to capitalize on them to further engage those folks to volunteer or donate.”

Although the two candidates have different approaches to how they currently use the outlet. Numbers show that Cruz, who has around 404, 000 followers, tweets 31 times a week, while Clinton who boasts 2.8 million followers, tweets only about once a week.

In regards to his own republican rivals, social media stats show Cruz getting the best social media reception. According to data provided by Facebook, in the 24 hours after Cruz’s announcement, 2.2 million unique people generated 5.7 million interactions (likes, posts, comments, shares) related to him and his announcement.

While Cruz is active on most of the major social outlets – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – there are some issues with his digital presence – his official campaign website. Unfortunately Cruz doesn’t own his name domain And the person who does – not a supporter. The page currently boasts “Support President Obama! Immigration Reform Now!”. Another web address, is directing users to the page.

With the official campaign website acting as the primary hub of information, Cruz will need to promote how voters can easily locate him.


Continuing with this “hip and fresh” theme, Rubio has been using social media, mostly Twitter, to post content targeted at young adults with messages highlighting connections to youth culture. Rubio sent a “Game of Thrones” related tweet before the show’s season premiere, he’s told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that he’s a fan of Pitbull and Nicki Minaji, and has also joked about TMZ asking him about his music taste.

Other than using it as a stream of attempts to be seen as relatable, Rubio has also been employing the channel for campaign arousal as well. Before he even officially announced, Rubio used social media to ask supporters to sign up for an email and promoted tickets for his announcements for $3.05 (a nod to Miami’s area code).

And when Rubio did announce, tweets and Facebook posts counted down the hours until the speech where a team of staffers live-tweeted the entire speech.

Strategies will inevitably change as it is still early in the campaign process, however, thus far, Caroline and I have given our reviews of who we think is leveraging their brand the best.


Logo Design

There are two logos that stand out to me. The first is Hillary’s H. I like the fact that the H can stand on its own. The Obama O showed how powerful a single letter logo can be and Hillary was smart to jump into that lane. However, the logo could have been designed better. As Patrick Mauldin showed in his revision, small tweaks could have really made the logo POP!

I also gravitated towards Marco Rubio’s logo. It is modern and fresh. When you look at it, it gives off a friendly and relaxed vibe. Although I’m not sure how voters will perceive that image, I do think it helps him stand out from his republican opponents.

Online Presence

Hillary is hands down the person running social the best. Her announcement on Twitter was seen 3 million times within an hour of being posted. After reading the numbers in Janie Valencia’s article on her announcement. The republican candidates have a lot of catching up to do. However, Rand Paul is swinging back strong with slogans like “Liberty not Hillary” and “Stand with Rand”. Not to mention his online store has the trendiest merchandise.


Logo Design

Of the four that currently exist, Cruz has my vote for best logo. While critics comment it looks like a burning flag, I think that in relation to his slogan, “Reigniting the Promise of America”, the logo provides fitting symbolism. Most importantly, I think the symbol is fit to evolve into a stand along icon for Cruz and his platform as the campaign continues. Furthermore, the gradient choices for his patriotic theme provide fluidity rather than flatness as Hillary’s does. And while some appreciated Rand’s boldness of using black, I personally find it alienating. Feelings of patriotism swell during election season and I think the public appreciates seeing the traditional red, white, and blue represented in the candidates.

Online Presence

Rand, however, does get my vote for digital activity. Even though he may not be dominating in terms of numbers of followers, I think he effectively uses it as an outlet for his honest voice. His Twitter feed includes graphics, gifs, and clips – content choices that show he can combine information with entertainment. However, as his run continues, he many need to tone down his snark remarks to gain support of his fellow republicans, as well as, appeal to broader voter audiences.

What are your opinions? Lets us know what you think of the logos and how the candidates are preforming online. Comment below!

-Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson

Broadcasting Yourself

Talking about yourself is one of the hardest things to do. In job interviews, meetings, and even social gatherings you have to masterfully articulate how great you are without seeming overzealous or under confident.

Last week I was able to speak with a radio broadcast professional about their work and experience in the radio industry. My meeting with the 107.7 Jamz and Sunny 94.3 Operations Manager Paul Johnson gave me insight into the radio business, and most importantly, advice on how to properly broadcast myself.

For those of you unfamiliar with the radio broadcast industry, here is a quick description of Paul’s job.

“An operations director [manager] defines the vision for the station’s on-air product, manages personnel in this area, cultivates talent and determines the best ways to showcase on-air personalities. Smooth on-air operations and shaping an on-air product that appeals to the targeted demographics are tickets to success in this position.”

As you can see, an operations manager plays a vital role in determining the stations brand. Here is Paul’s advice on defining your brand and being your own “operations manager”.

Build Skills and Use Them to Make You Valuable

Publicist, marketing/sales professionals, DJ’s, engineers, and even web designers can call radio their home. The industry offers many jobs in a variety of career fields. However, radio jobs are extremely hard to find, especially if you’re a newbie. One way to get your foot in the door is to have a relevant set of skills that allow you to do work fast.

For the broadcasting industry, Paul recommends that you buy a decent camera, learn audio editing software, such as Audition, and practice writing. He explains that by having those skills in your back pocket you can easily step in and help out.

It is important to remember to step in where your skill set fits. Say there is a project going on where your team is making a radio commercial, offer to help with assignments you are strong in (if you have a choice). By doing so, you advertise your worth to your employer.

History-Of-Radio_FINALHave Confidence

The difference between a pro and an amateur is confidence. From the interview, to the first couple of months of work, to when s*** hits the fan, you must always be and show confidence in yourself and your work.

Paul said, when interviewing you must leave the employer wanting more. Let them know that you chose to apply or reach out to this company because you like the caliber they operate on. If they don’t have anything open at that moment, ask them if they could refer you to another company of the same caliber. This positions you as being desirable, not desperate.

 Find Your Purpose

One question you must always ask when participating in an informational interview is how/why did that person decided to go into their specific industry. This question is a great conversation starter and is useful because it gives you insight into industry culture, as well as what is important to those working in it.

Paul kindly answered this for me by briefly reflecting on his 40 years in the industry. He told me that when he was younger he loved to play music. (He was even in a rock-n-roll band.) After realizing his passion of music didn’t match his musical skill set, he took his dad’s advice and began searching for another career path.

His relationship with radio began in college. As he got older he found his lively voice, love for music, and passion to “inspire, entertain and motivate people”, all came together under radio. He said he has taken a few breaks over the years, working as a computer programmer/analyst and even a police dispatcher/911 operator, but he has always come back. The key, he says, is to match your skills with your likes, by doing that you are guaranteed to exceed and be happy with the work you do.

I encourage each and every reader to take the opportunity to network and meet with others in and outside of your industry. As Robert Kiyosaki said, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks; everyone else looks for work”.

-Caroline Robinson

Paul Johnson currently works for Beasley Media Group. Before holding his current position, he worked as an interactive sales manager, and program director/DJ. His work has taken him from Minneapolis to Oklahoma City to Charlotte, North Carolina. He holds a B.A. in Speech-Communication from the University of Minnesota and a Computer Programming Certificate (equivalent to major sequence in B.S. degree) from the Brown Institute.

More than just players score at March Madness

The Blue Devils aren’t the only ones who came out of March Madness a winner – so did advertisers. America’s appetite for basketball drama has consistently led the NCAA Tournament to rank as one of the largest sporting events in the world. For nearly three weeks, channels, eyes, and hopeful hearts are tuned to the court – a viewership opportunity that brands simply cannot pass up. With millions available at their threshold, March Madness has turned into a magnet, not just of athleticism, but of commercialization and the lucrative benefits that surround sports marketing.

March Madness easily showcases how stadiums act both as court and stage. A week before the tournament even started, advertisers had snatched up more than 95% of ad space in TV broadcasts and the March Madness live stream. Just as with any supply and demand model, the craze for ad space has left the cost for such a captive audience with a hefty price tag. The going rate for a 30 second spot for Monday night’s title game was $1.5 million and trends indicate numbers are only expected to rise.

For the past 10 years advertising has increased at an average rate of 8.21% each year – an increase that correlates with big bucks. Since 2005 the annual NCAA Tournament has generated approximately $7.5 billion in television advertising, last year alone accounted for $1.13 billion.

The NCAA has monetized the sporting event in a platform for corporate sponsors to reap benefits from advertising and promotional programs anchored around the games. “March Madness has evolved into Marketing Madness,” said Jon Swallen, Chief Research Officer at Kantar Media.


With the hoops hysteria not only continuing, each year, but also growing, many marketing professionals claim that March Madness is actually more of a giant than the heralded Super Bowl. Not just monetarily but increasingly creatively as well.

Turner Broadcasting System President David Levy explains how advertisers and sponsors looking to optimize their presence in the spotlight are starting to tailor creative specifically for the tournament, “It’s like we’ve been seeing for years with the Super Bowl, where everyone wants to roll out a new ad when they know everyone’s watching.”

From an advertising standpoint, rather than the competitiveness that surrounds the single night event of the Super Bowl, March Madness offers a far more capitalizing environment that has multiple touch points stretched across 67 games.

Over the past few years, technology has been a major benefactor is accessing such touch points.

First, regarding television, there’s a proliferation of opportunities says, Jeff Stamp of Grey Group. “Instead of just local rounds being covered by local channels, there’s now the new model where you get to see all the games early on. That’s doubling and tripling the opportunities for early round advertising.”

This year CBS and Turner Broadcasting showed every game live on CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV. In addition, tournament games were also streamed live on multiple websites and the NCAA’s own app, leading to Stamp’s second point – opportunities garnered from audiences increased usage of second and third screens. “People are watching their main game on television, they’re streaming another live on their tablet, and then tweeting, texting, and posting about the games simultaneously. We’re talking about three more opportunities for advertisers to be involved and relevant,” says Stamp.


Of the 201 brands who invested in the playoff opportunities, their efforts were well worth it. This year’s tournament set records with the highest viewership in 22 years, averaging about 11.3 million total viewers. The tournament’s title game also set records as 28.3 million tuned into watch Duke v. Wisconsin.

Furthermore, data also proved online mediums to be a powerful outlet. NCAA March Madness Live, the tournament’s streaming app, generated 80.7 million live video streams during the playoffs, and 3.4 million the night of the championship.

And while the night of the championship Duke was pitted against Wisconsin, a Chicago based company, 4C Insights pitted Nationwide against AT&T in their own battle of the brand bracket. Following the standard bracket model, 4C Insights replaced teams with brands and analyzed March Madness advertisers during the entire NCAA tournament, focusing on which companies got the biggest brand lifts through social media engagement – Twitter retweets and favorites, and Facebook likes, video views, and shares. Only one can come out on top, and according to them, this year it was AT&T.

Other companies agree, says that the telecomm company generated the top digital response during the tournament, both overall as a company and with in individual ad impact with their video ad “Strong Nickname” which ranked number one when analyzing digital SOV – “share of voice determined by percentage of spend or digital activity compared to NCAA advertisers.”

Producing digital activity has been frequently shown as key for garnering brand reach and interaction, but is especially relevant in major sports marketing events such as March Madness. This year, March Madness had 350 million impressions across Facebook and Twitter — a 45% increase over 2014. And while numbers from this year are still being crunched, data from 2014 shows that the NCAA reported 7.7 million social media comments were made about the tournament, and that there were 1.5 billion online conversation about corporate partners last year.

But even if you aren’t a corporate giant like AT&T, car companies, or beverage companies, there are still ways to leverage your company or campaign into the hype. The following suggestions come from Jill Waldman in her article on how March Madness can be “A Slam Dunk for Advertisers”.

Think digitally. As mentioned earlier, audiences are simultaneously dividing their attention with second and third screens – from streaming games online, to participating in online brackets, or simply looking up scores, there are thousands of ways to reach people online with targeted digital ad buying.

Get social. With millions of social media comments being registered about individuals games as well as the tournament in whole, it’s easy to organically grow your social media following and presence simple by joining the conversation using relevant hash tags.

Show team spirit. This option is accessible for nearly any type of business. Create your own bracket contest, host a viewing party for local teams, offer discounts for an underdog upset, or create a themed menu.

Did you watch any of the March Madness games? Which outlet did you use the most – television, online streaming, mobile updates, or all three? What advertisers resonated with you the most? Did you participate in any promotions affiliated with the tournament? Where do you think the bidding for ad space will start next year? Let us know in a comment below.

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– Savannah Valade

Why Starbucks’ efforts to spike race conversation has been a steaming topic

If you’re one of the millions of people that visit Starbucks regularly, you may have noticed that your cup was scribbled with more than just your complicated drink order. Last week, rather than promoting a new flavor, Starbucks promoted conversation – and not just small talk. In its “Race Together” campaign, Starbucks encouraged its baristas to stimulate conversation and debate about race and racial issues in America.

Such hot button involvement is not unusual for the coffee company who is no stranger to tipping its cup into “social responsibility.” Earlier this year, Forbes ranked Starbucks fifth in its annual ranking of the world’s most admired companies. Its newest social awareness campaign, “Race Together” formed in light of the recent nationwide tragedies involving race relations in places such as Ferguson, Missouri and New York.

“Race Together is not a solution”, said CEO Howard Schultz, “but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society – one conversation at a time.”


As part of the campaign, Schultz has attempted to initiate such conversation via coffee cup, open forums, and newspaper. Partnering with publisher and president, Larry Kramer, a newspaper supplement co-authored by Starbucks and USA Today will appear in USA Today print editions and will also be distributed at Starbucks stores.

Yet despite the ambition, pushback has halted some of the effort. After just a week of doing so, baristas will no longer write #RaceTogether on patron’s cups. Its aim to cause conversation unfortunately unfolded into mostly criticism.

Rigoberto Hernandez collected quotes about the Race Together campaign in his article “Here’s What People Are Saying About Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ Campaign”. Jessica Goldstein from Think Progress states,

“It is never too surprising when #brands try to seem human, but these transparent efforts only make corporations sound even less like people. … The branding of places like Starbucks are particularly obnoxious: the operation requires you to adopt a nonsensical lexicon that elevates the ordinary (calling a cashier a barista is the equivalent of calling an Apple employee, a.k.a., a glorified RadioShack worker, a “genius”). Even a small is “tall” at Starbucks. A place that manipulates language in this way should not be responsible for “starting a conversation” about anything, least of all an issue as fraught, complex and sensitive as race”.

The announcement of the Race Together campaign was confusing for most. Why would anyone want to engage in a superficial conversation about a heated and important social issue with a coffee barista they have never met before?

In college we were required to read Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks by Bryant Simon. For those of you who haven’t read it, the book explores the Starbucks brand from its origins to its blooming success, how the brand and our lifestyles interact, and most importantly the danger of “pursuing solutions to highly complex social problems through buying and buying alone.” This last idea is extremely important and helps clarify the issues with the current Race Together campaign.

Starbucks thinks their company and products can help solve problems. Their thought process is buying a cup of Starbucks coffee with #Racetogether brings awareness to race issues in America and will maybe inspire people to talk, which will help constitute change.

But why now? In Everything but the Coffee, Simon talks about corporate responsibility, specifically citing Starbucks and the environment. A survey concluded that Americans cared about the environment and wanted the companies they do business with to do the same. With distaste of politics, consumers turned to invest their money in companies that supported what they believed in. Racial tensions have replaced environmental activism as the hot topic, and Starbucks wants to show consumers they also believe in racial equality.

However noble Schultz’s actions are, I find it hard to believe he is doing it purely to foster conversation about race relations. One story in Simon’s work specifically stuck out in my mind. Aaron Roberts, a black Seattle man was shot and killed in 2011 during an attempted pull over for reckless driving. Reverend Robert Jeffery, a social activist, promised to pursue Robert’s killing and the claim that police shoot first and asked questions later. After failed attempts to gain the attention of city leaders, he called for a boycott of Starbucks. His reasoning, “since our votes are not getting us what we need, we need to see if we can get it where we spend our money”. (Insinuating corporations are responsible for such repressive police actions and have the power to reach politicians that individual citizens do not have.) Simon states there is no indication that Starbucks company representatives ever met with Jeffery; still no articles about a meeting pop up in today’s Google search.

Jeffery was right about one thing— corporations have power! Today Starbucks has 21,000 retail stores in over 66 countries. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz even comments on the companies omnipotence, “ Our objective from the very start of this effort — dating back to our first open forum in Seattle last December — was to stimulate conversation, empathy and compassion toward one another, and then to broaden that dialogue beyond just our Starbucks family to the greater American public by using our scale for good.”

Yet how much good Race Together has actually done is left to be questioned. Did the campaign succeed in generating conversation about race? Many say no, and that rather than race, the conversation that was actually started was about Starbucks itself.

While Schultz’s CEO activism is to be generally applauded, was the coffee cup campaign really the right outlet for this discussion? Do baristas even have the time to generate conversation? At any given time, Starbuck’s baristas act like an oiled machine to efficiently take, checkout, and produce hundreds of drink orders. Attempting to pull aside an employee for a discussion, even just for a minute or two, has major implications for logistical operations. From that standpoint alone, the campaign was doomed says Business Insider.

Furthermore, while race relation in America is a conversation Schultz is ready to have, is it one that the baristas and customers are ready for? Entrepreneur says the campaign is unfair to the people who have to dish it out. Putting this immense task on workers, even if it is voluntary, is taxing and unfair. Customers sue restaurants and attack employees over problems as inconsequential as order mix-ups. With hundreds of customers served at a single Starbucks every day, it’s easy to imagine employees suddenly dealing with a slew of ignorant, racist or violent reactions — or individual baristas making ignorant or racist comments themselves.


The question remains, do the majority of customers care about exploring racial issues or do they just care about getting their morning cup of joe? Did you visit a Starbucks last week? Did you baristas prompt you to discuss the campaign? Would you have felt comfortable doing so? Did you even hear anyone in the store discussing race relations? Let us know in a comment below what you think about the campaign.

– Caroline Robinson and Savannah Valade