Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Starbucks' Diversity Campaign “Race Together” Called Off


One week after its launching, Starbucks' “Race Together” campaign for diversity and racial equality – part of which is the most visible, hotly-debated phase, the writing of “Race Together” on customers' cups - was cancelled after it drew huge negative criticisms. The Race initiative was the coffee shop chain's concept designed to “stimulate conversation, empathy and compassion toward one another.”

The java giant is pulling the plug on its controversial “Race Together” campaign, according to a company memo from CEO Howard Schultz. Baristas were no longer to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups starting Sunday, concluding the most visible part of the company’s diversity and racial equality campaign. Read more:  

Race Together is the latest and boldest of Mr. Schultz’s efforts to insert his company and its employees into sensitive social issues, from health care to gun rights. In addition to the cups, the initiative entails Starbucks employee forums to discuss race, special sections co-produced with USA Today about the subject, and other efforts to, in Mr. Schultz’s words, “foster dialogue and empathy and help bridge the racial and ethnic divides within our society that have existed for so many years.” The CEO said those other efforts would continue. Read more:

The backlash came largely from Starbucks' customer base, many of whom think the campaign was ill-conceived, ill-timed, merely an attempt to force employees into making a political statement. While most criticisms focused on the initiative itself, unleashing emotional responses towards the issue of race, some were concentrated on the company's branded coffee.

A good number of articles offered studied analyses on what could have gone wrong, despite Starbucks' good intentions. One such article examining the issue says:
It’s quite simple: Customers didn’t see the connection between race relations and what the company offers. As a result, many customers thought that the campaign was exploiting a social issue for financial gain.
Another such analysis provides some reasons for the campaign's failure, which in sum is all about "a different perspective...-none of us, irrespective of race and ethnicity, have effectively learned to be culturally sensitive." Still, author Peter Aranda, urges Starbucks to "continue your diversity and inclusion efforts." 

Many other like-minded anlyses also encouraged the continuation of the diversity campaign, while one article in particular notes  
Due to its scale and a myriad of other challenges, the actual customer experience will never be consistent enough to represent the Starbucks brand as Starbucks would like it to be.
The initiative indeed will continue, as Schultz wrote in his company letter
But this initiative is far from over. We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come...
 
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