Mobile application developer Jonathan Stark (a mobile app consultant from Providence, Rhode Island) made his Starbucks card available for anyone by offering his Starbucks Mobile app on the Web for others to use.
His message read:
“Need a caffeine boost? Use Jonathan's card. Want to buy a cup of joe for a pal? Or, more likely, someone you've never met? Use Jonathan's card.”
Stark posted an image of the electronic card, inviting anyone to copy it to their own phones.
"Jonathan's Card is an experiment in social sharing of physical goods using digital currency on mobile phones ...," he wrote on his site. "Based on the similarity to the 'take a penny, leave a penny' trays at convenience stores in the US, I've adopted a similar 'get a coffee, give a coffee' terminology for Jonathan's Card."
Needless to say, lots of people followed up on this call to action. After its launch in July 2011, the campaign went viral once it was covered by several tech blogs.
According to Stark, more than 177 people spent $3,651 on the card; not bad considering that the original balance was only $30 balance. A couple of times, some users transferred money to their own Starbucks accounts.
"It's been a bit emotional, actually," Stark stated. "People's reactions have ranged from accusing me of stealing to thanking me for renewing their faith in humanity. It's been very uplifting overall, but it does hurt when the occasional pessimists send negativity my way."
How did Starbucks react? “We think Jonathan's project is really interesting and are flattered he chose Starbucks for his social experiment. We're curious to see how his project continues to evolve."
In the end, it all came to an end due to Sam Odio, who wrote a script that let him transfer large amounts of money from Jonathan’s Card to his own personal card. Once Starbucks became aware of Odio's efforts, the company shut down Stark's card. "We were concerned with fraudulent activity," a Starbucks’ spokesperson said. "Starbucks was supporting the program from the sidelines, because it was an interesting thing, and in line with the pay it forward mentality. But the very concept of sharing a card violates our company's terms of service. "
One thing is certain: Jonathan’s card was an interesting marketing experiment in collective consumption and mobile currency – and excellent branding for Jonathan Stark himself!