Does Starbucks Deliberately Manipulate Its Customer’s Emotions?

With 12,811 locations in US alone, and 10 days to do it, in order for Starbucks to reach its “goal” of 250,000 check-ins, they need less than 2 people to check in per day, per location. So then why all the song and dance, Starbucks?

I was doing some work at my office -aka a local Starbucks- and while waiting for my drink (tall, quad, skim, light caramel, caramel macchiato), I noticed a poster reading:

You check in, we give. Every time you check in at Starbucks on Foursquare, Starbucks will contribute US $1 to the Global Fund to help fight AIDS – up to $250,000.

Let me preface what I’m about to do to my favorite conglomerate by saying that I LOVE Starbucks.

Not only because they got me addicted to their deliciousness, but because they’ve managed to maintain an unprecedented level of product quality whilst expanding faster than our Universe.

In fact, I believe it was the great Stephen Hawking who suggested that the Universe is expanding in order to accomodate new Starbucks locations. But I could be wrong about that.

Starbucks does give their part-timers health insurance. And they have a killer CEO who’s books I’ve enjoyed reading very much. So as far as soulless corporations go, Starbucks is one of my favs.

Starbucks, Meet Cause.

(Red)Rush to zero is a great cause, and Starbucks is trying to do their part. And for this I applaud them.

But as I stood there, reading the poster…iPhone in hand, Foursquare account fired up and ready to go at a press of a finger. I simply didn’t feel compelled to do anything. Why?

All I had to do is check-in on Foursquare. And Starbucks would have given a dollar to a good cause. Why didn’t I?

Something’s Amiss

There was something that rubbed me the wrong way about this campaign.

From June 1-10, that’s 10 days. Starbucks needs 250,000 checks-ins. Why does this reek of incongruence?

A-HA!

$1 per check-in, up to $250,000.

Why? Starbucks. Why? Are you afraid the campaign will be a smashing success? Are you afraid you’ll give too much?

It sounds to me like you’ve already committed to giving $250.000, so why all the song and dance? Ahhh…you want us to know you’re a good corporation, not like those other ones. Got it. Message received.

Without these posters, and without the “check-ins”, Starbucks would have to tell us directly that they donate to good charities. With posters, however, they let us know in a much more subtle way whilst engaging us in the process. Nicely done. If little manipulative.

But wait…all this is just me making assumptions off the cuff. Maybe the check-ins are not guaranteed, and a great cause may not get $250,000 coming to it.

Get Yer Math On

In case you think I’m being too hard on my favorite coffee chain, let’s do some light math.

According to my math, with 12,811 locations in US alone, and 10 days to do it, in order for Starbucks to reach its “goal” of 250,000 check-ins, they need less than 2 people to check in per day, per location.

Ya, I think this one’s in the bag and doesn’t need my help.

People are checking into Starbucks on Foursquare already. They don’t need a poster to remind them to do it. But the poster is there to signal to customers that Starbucks is a good corporation who gives to charity.

As if to say “See, dear customer? You should feel good about consuming our product because we empower you to prod us into charitable donations”. Or something like that….

I guess the piece that’s bothering me is the insincerity of the whole thing. Thinly veiled attempt at engaging us while the check may have already been deposited into charity’s account.

The Art of Telling, Without Telling

I usually try to impart some kinda lesson on this here blog. And I think this one should be easy.

Starbucks actually managed to let us know that they are donating $250,000 to (RED) without saying “Hey, look at us. Aren’t we cool?” Because saying “look at us” would be in poor taste.

Manipulative? Yup. For sure. Genius? Ditto.

(RED)

None of this should stop you from contributing to a good charity. Help (RED) end AIDS epidemic by 2015 by donating now.

Final Word

Is yours.

Dino Dogan

Global Force for Badassery | Founder of Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Writer for Technorati | Speaker | Lousy Martial Artist | Pretty good singer/songwriter | Hi :-)

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  • Mary

    I feel the same way about Yoplait pink lids. Every year I collect them at work and send them in all the time thinking that the money is already in the mail.

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      I know, right? I mean, it’s nice that they’re trying to do a nice thing, but I cant help but feel manipulated. 

      • http://twitter.com/JTDabbagian James Dabbagian

        Especially since the money they donate barely funds ONE cancer treatment. 

        • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

          wow…good point. I didnt even think about that. 

          • http://twitter.com/JTDabbagian James Dabbagian

            On similar lines, the average cost for AIDS treatment for one patient is between $14,000-25,000. So that “generous” donation would only account for 17 patients, AT BEST. Good job, Starbucks. 

  • http://www.wonderoftech.com Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Hi Dino, Starbucks marketing campaign truly is genius. You’re absolutely right, they could have just donated the money and gone home, but instead they got customer involvement, no purchase required. Of course chances are high that those people who check in will also make a purchase, so everyone’s a winner, right?

    My favorite paragraph: In fact, I believe it was the great Stephen Hawking who suggested that the Universe is expanding in order to accomodate new Starbucks locations. But I could be wrong about that.
    Brilliant. 

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      That is a pretty good line, isnt it? lol

  • http://www.dalmenyclose.com Ross Hall

    Sorry, but this is way old as a technique. UK supermarkets often run “for schools” type schemes where you get vouchers that you can give to your local school so they can claim sports equipment or what-not.

    Various other brands have done similar things with “buy one of our products and we’ll give £x to charity.” Quite how they track it no one knows, but it sounds better than “we gave money to x charity”.

    I’ve seen very mixed results where I have seen it used. Appears to be more effective as a defensive tactic rather than an offensive one.

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      ya, great point(s), Ross. 

  • Karen

    Great post Dino! It’s kind of like when Chic-Fil-A donates 20% of the profits for one night back to a certain school. Yes, they are “giving back” which in turn makes them look good. But it’s also a way to gain more customers, in the form of those who want to support the school! 

    • http://twitter.com/dino_dogan Dino Dogan

      Exactly :-)