Thursday, May 01, 2008

Early Morning Marketing

On my way to work this morning I was handed a free Starbucks mug by a guy sporting the familiar green-apron barista uniform. It was outside of a DC Metro station and I was completely taken aback for a two unrelated reasons. First, the only interaction I've ever had with Starbucks has been when I've made a choice to enter a Starbucks. In my experience, Starbucks isn't an organization that you're likely to encounter unsolicited on the street, as opposed to, say, the Girl Scouts or Green Peace. Secondly, I couldn't help but note that this free mug promotion happened the very day that Starbucks was getting ready to announce a 28% nose dive in 2nd quarter earnings.

Maybe I'm just easily impressed at 7:30am on the Metro, but this mug giveaway really helped to deconstruct the narrative I had already developed; that of a company growing into a faceless organization in pretty serious financial trouble. Here's why:

The mug itself isn't too shabby, unlike most free crap, I'd actually use this. It's a full 20 ounces and looks and feels just like the ones sold in Starbucks for $10. That's a pretty big giveaway investment for a company that's not exactly raking in the profit at the moment. Not sure the scale of the giveaway - just at DC metro stations, other locations in the area.

What really drew me into the campaign was the partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - their logo featured right in the center. Anyone that grew up in the greater Washington-Baltimore area as a kid remembers the 'Save the Bay' campaigns. These were the folks who spray painted 'Chesapeake Bay Drainage' on all the sewers and who came into the schools to warn children that everything from leaving the lights on to skipping math class would ultimately pollute the bay.

While I took the mug because I recognized the Starbucks guy - to be honest I was half asleep and secretly hoped there was coffee already inside - I actually became receptive to the message when I saw Foundation's logo. I opened up the mug hoping for more info and there was a note that read: "Bring a travel mug when you buy a drink at Starbucks and we'll donate 10 cents to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Plus you'll save 10 cents on your drink, every time. Together we can help save the bay."

I assume the creators of this mug giveaway were banking on Word of Mouth to carry this message beyond the few hundred people who received a mug. Sure enough, I went to work and put the mug my desk. Over the course of the day, no less than 10 coworkers asked where I got it, which inevitability led to a conversation about our childhood Save the Bay workshops and how much we'd love to run out and get Starbucks right now.

I don't want to beat this Word of Mouth Marketing idea to death, you get where I'm going: one simple mug got a dozen people talking about both the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Starbucks. In this case, the message resonated because it was localized via the Bay Foundation and delivered through trusted social circles, rather than ad dollars or press releases -- all with an empty cup of coffee.

[Update, turns out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is pretty in to social networking. They've got a presence on facebook and have blogged about the Starbucks partnership]

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