Viral Marketing: When Coffee is not just Coffee

Web 2.0 affords company a new, more powerful, and direct way to respond to criticisms, and engage directly with its consumers. Let’s use Starbucks as a perfect example.


This video has been viewed over 28,500 times, and has over 90 comments. Granted, most of their comments don’t seem positive, but I can tell you the campaign has gained them a lot of credibility for effort, and for getting out their message to their consumers. But the potential benefits are also great. Your consumers, and others, may just well appreciate the honesty, and come to your defense.

For example, here is an email I got today from Common Sense, a conservative political issues organization. This email goes to thousands, and had it not been for the videos Starbucks posted on their site, and the reaction, they would have never gotten this sort of a positive plug on an email list this size–for free! That is what is called VIRAL MARKETING, and while the risks are great, the rewards can be even greater.

Starbucks is coffee. Actually not just coffee, but a way of presenting coffee. Designer coffee, if you will. Lattes and such.

Starbucks is also a corporation, a demon in the eyes of some.

Recently a Starbucks rep posted a video at the popular website YouTube to defend the company against charges of being “exploitative.” Starbucks might get into a trademark dispute, or buy coffee overseas at the market price. This upsets some people, who I suppose believe that Starbucks should pay farmers double the going rate.

A pseudonymous commentator on the Starbucks video says the company “is leeching on the community, selling watered down coffee and making billions. It is easy money, no questions, their strength is in branding. . . . A company making billions on the backs of these poor farmers. . . .”

Note the criticisms. Starbucks is “leeching on” the community. How? By buying coffee that farmers want to sell, or by selling coffee to buyers who want to buy? Their coffee is “watered down.” It’s the very opposite: Starbucks is known for espresso, which is concentrated coffee, carefully prepared.

The real problem: Starbucks is so good at what it does that it’s got a recognizable name. And is “making billions.” Supposedly ill-gotten, easy gains. As if the company had robbed a bank. Well, no, my pseudonymous friend. The folks at Starbucks earned the money.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

You can watch their other two videos here. The big question for businesses is 1) Are you willing to stomach this level of openness and the potential for negative feedback? You just have to develop a thick skin, and find the opportunity among the responses.

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