Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Legal oversight, marketing blunder or a stroke of marketing genius?

On Election Day last November, Starbucks launched a one day marketing campaign. It offered a free 12 oz. drip coffee to anyone who voted. However, this is illegal in the US. Federal law prohibits payment of money, goods or services in return for voting. Starbucks advertised the voter promotion on television during the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live (for a brilliant spoof of the coffee chain click here).

Starbucks did some quick crisis management issued the following statement:
To ensure we are in compliance with election law, we are extending our offer to all customers who request a tall brewed coffee."

As a result the wires buzzed with, "Did you hear about Starbucks?" which went hand in hand with: "Do you think Obama will win? "

Theis kind of viral buzz is a marketer's dream. Starbucks profited big time from their freebie:

  • Many that came in for the free coffee left with purchased sandwiches, cookies or muffins.

  • Others opted to upgrade their free plain coffee for a fancy grande mocha frappuccino latte or espresso.

  • The Starbucks brand was plastered all over the media

The question remains if Starbucks made an honest mistake (in which case they should fire their legal advisor) or if it was a clever marketing ploy (in which case they should promote that marketing professional to a senior management position).

Quite likely, it was a case of an eager marketing beaver running off with a campaign without clearing it with legal first. If that is so, Starbucks presented us with a wonderful example of effective crisis management.

Although it turned out great for Starbucks in the end, I strongly advise all companies (regardless of industry or location) to run all planned marketing, sales or PR campaigns via their legal department or advisor before launch. This is even more critical if the company operates internationally.

No comments: