City Hippy

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

FEATURE: Activism 2.0?

GreenLAGirl & I started the Starbucks Challenge for a reason: to assess the Starbucks' Fair Trade promise.

Starbucks promise (PDF) is to make Fair Trade coffee for you, any day of the week in more than 20 countries - we wanted to find out just how easy that was.

The goal
For me the goal has always been to engage with Starbucks, to test that promise and to assist Starbucks in delivering on that promise.

I hate Starbucks, Not!
Not my style to hate anyone or anything. I believe in working with companies and people to affect positive change. I believe in the Triple Bottom Line. People. Planet. Profit.

Starbucks: Good or evil
Starbucks have much to be applauded for. They pay a higher price for even their non-Fair Trade coffee. As Triple Pundit recently reported Starbucks are working to make their cups as green as possible. Positive steps.

They are not perfect. They have their critics. But good or evil? It's never that simple, is it?

The Starbucks Challenge: results
According to GreenLAGirl, as of Oct 26th, we have so far motivated 102 blogs to join the call to one degree or another, ranging from simple links or mentions to full-blown encouragement and participation.

That number continues to grow and includes an impressive range of large reputable blogs i.e. Kottke, LifeHacker, Treehugger, MSNBC's Clicked and the Guardian News Link Blog (although now only visible in their account).

So far 111 challenges have been added to the feed monitoring the challenge.

Those 111 challenges have taken place in 10 countries and across the USA in 21 states and Washington DC. From China to London, from Kuala Lumpur to Canada, from LA to New Zealand.

The results have been mixed and very interesting.

Initial conclusions
Starbucks seem interested in the challenge, it took only three days for Cindy from Starbucks CSR to get in touch, and rightly so. Why wouldn't they be interested in feedback from highly-motivated customers, ex-customers and potential customers based around the world?

Starbucks are undoubtedly learning much about their policies; where they succeed and where they fail. Their acceptance of their imperfection is to be applauded and copied.

In Cindy's words from recent emails to GreenLAGirl and myself:

"...thank you and your fellow bloggers for pointing out our miss and helping us provide better service to our customers."

"...after I get the results from your challenge, I will be presenting your findings to our Retail Operations and Communications team so we can find a solution."

They have taken as positive a line as possible for a company under global customer scrutiny. Brave and so clearly the right thing to do.

Bigger than Starbucks: my analysis
Personally the challenge offers other conclusions that any business would be wise to consider.

The Starbucks Challenge represents the devolution and globalisation of activism.

The combination of freely available blogging software and the desire to tackle a consumer issue spells testing times ahead for businesses with something to hide.

Open companies like Starbucks on the other hand have much to gain from embracing their customers.

As blogging is proving, conversations are taking place and, in the case of this Challenge, Starbucks have decided to be a part of the conversation as opposed to just being the subject of it.

Activism 2.0 indeed.

For those companies out there who are:

- taking the PR benefits of a promise without delivering
- living in a pre-internet world of one-way marcomms
- happy pulling the wool over their customers eyes

the Starbucks Challenge serves as a wake-up call.

If knowledge is power then we are witnessing a seismic shift in the corporate-consumer power relationship.

Business and consumers are entering an era of sustainable marketing; where your customers are better informed and better connected than ever before. From now on, honesty really is the best policy.

Companies and brands will live or die on that fact in the future.




ps We (City Hippy that is, can't speak for GreenLAGirl) have other corporate challenges planned, indeed Challenge 2 is set to start in Spring 06. We already have a company in mind.

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At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I must admit Starbucks would never be my first choice for a coffee, but in the interests of activism I went into the Mermaid's outlet on Ludgate Hill, London near St Pauls Cathedral and asked for a mocha with fair trade beans. I was told (politely) they didn't have any, and could they only make it with 'espresso' beans. So I left without a coffee.


At 10:02 AM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Jeremy

Thanks for taking part. I appreciate it is hard for some for people to go into Starbucks in the first place ;)

Think the FairTrade is only regular though so might be worth giving that a go if you get another chance. They should french press it if they have none brewing.



At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At Perceptric,, we wrote about this fascinating Starbucks Challenge for two reasons. One, to note how two bloggers could easily get one of the world's most prominent companies on the run within minutes. And two, to note Starbucks response. Any big franchise or retail company has problems keeping control, Starbucks is no exception. But, they did respond, and they did try to do something about their problem.(problem being saying one thing and having stores do another)so they get brownie poitns for that. Whether their efforts really work is yet to be seen.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Richard

Thanks for the comment. You sum it up perfectly:

1) Consumers have more power than ever before and

2) Companies are not perfect and that is ok as long as they engage their imperfections.



At 4:49 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Cityhippy - you're the bomb.

Hit me up if you want to take on either;
a) the US software patent system
b) AT-will employment in the US

I'll be harassing my local *$'s barist a first thing in the morning.



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