Starbuck's ‘Race Together’ Campaign



Case Code : CLMM126
Publication date : 2017
Subject : Marketing Management
Industry : Food & Beverage
Organization :Starbucks Corporation
Length : 7 pages
Teaching Note : Not Available


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Abstract: ICMR India ICMR India ICMR India ICMR India RSS Feed

This case is about corporate coffee giant Starbucks’ social awareness campaign ‘Race Together’, which aimed to start racial conversations as it served coffee by asking baristas to write ‘Race Together’ on the customer’s cup. The baristas were advised to engage the customers on discussions on racial relationships as a part of the company’s social responsibility initiative to maintain racial equality in America. But a part of the campaign was stopped amidst strong protests from all quarters and criticism on social media. Some of the critical remarks against the campaign focused on the company’s hiring practices, undue interference into an employee’s personal space, and its work culture. The general discussion on a sentimental issue such as racism in a coffee shop was also criticized. However, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, proclaimed that the company would pursue his initiative of fighting for racial equity through several other elements of the campaign.


Understand the key concern for Starbucks – delivering racial conversations along with coffee.
Observe the acceptability of the campaign toward catalyzing social issues like race relations in America.
Examine the viability of the word-of-mouth campaign — ‘Race Together’ in a coffee shop for addressing racial issues.
Understand the importance of content marketing in creating brand value.
Analyze the other elements of the campaign to streamline the social awareness program for racial equity.
Explore other strategies Starbucks should have adopted to position itself as a purpose-driven brand.


On March 22, 2015, US-based coffee house chain Starbucks Corporation (Starbucks) reportedly pulled the plug on a part of its racial equality campaign ‘Race Together’. Starbucks had expected the social awareness campaign, an initiative from the coffee chain in collaboration with USA TODAY , to stimulate an open dialogue and discussion with the customers on racial issues in America. As part of the campaign, Starbucks encouraged its baristas to write the words ‘Race Together’ on coffee cups and engage customers in conversation about racial issues at its stores.

The campaign attracted widespread criticism from all quarters, with the company receiving flak for wading into the complex issue of race. It was widely ridiculed on social media by people who said it was inappropriate for a coffee chain to push itself into such a sensitive matter and that the campaign was nothing but feel-good activism on a thorny issue. Experts felt that that Starbucks had taken a challenging risk by running the campaign. “It is intention versus execution here. From a marketing standpoint, it is always going to be a challenge because consumers are skeptical and they’ll always think there is an ulterior motive here: You’re trying to sell me more coffee [or] you’re trying to create a halo around the brand. If you can get past that in setting up a sustainable, credible track record with authenticity, you have a chance,” remarked Americus Reed, a marketing professor from Wharton..

Key words:
Race Together’, Starbucks, Racial equality, Social awareness campaign, Racial issues, ‘Come Together’ campaign, Racism, Race relations">

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