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Starbucks Free Pastry FAIL

Posted on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, Social Media

If you’ve read my last two posts, you must think I’m obsessed with either free things or coffee. Truth is I am a big fan of both. So, when I get Facebook invites, or see a Twitter trend on a campaign for either of these things, I’m stoked.  When I saw that Starbucks was doing another giveaway, I knew it was a gift from the coffee Gods.

For Social Media heavyweight Starbucks, Tuesday’s Free Pastry promotion should have been a slam dunk.  Starbucks was a forerunner in blogging with MyStarbucksidea.com, is a best practice shining star on Twitter and Facebook, and is highly active in numerous other social media forums. Even for this accomplished Social Media brand, executing an online promotion/real world execution campaign can be a mine field to navigate.

Starbucks Free Pastry Day was announced via Facebook. They wisely advertised by utilizing Facebook’s new event invite publisher which shows up in the news feed section of profiles. Customers could either print out the coupon or show a certain event webpage to the barista on their mobile. Over 158,800 people responded as attending. For a brand which estimates 3 people convert for every 4 people who interact with the brand on social networking sites, this is quite an accomplishment.

As their bleary-eyed fans rolled out of bed and jumped online, Starbucks became a hot trend on Twitter (#2) and “Starbucks nutrition” rose to the top of Google Trends. They scored big time on the gold-winning metrics of brand recognition, customer loyalty, and even reach beyond the specific campaigned product. Sounds like their social media team of 7 people worked overtime for awhile on that one!

Bombs started exploding when it came to execution. The Free Pastry (with purchase) was available until 10:30am or until supplies last. By 8am the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook were bursting with woes of local baristas refusing to honor the webpage as a coupon, shortage of supplies, and complaints of having to make a purchase to receive the freebie. Negative comparisons were made to McDonald’s  which required no purchase for its Free Mocha Monday. The hashtag #FreePastryDay soon was paired with the words “bust”, “denied”, and the hashtag #fail. Starbucks social media team took to Facebook to reply to these complaints with sentiments that amounted to “This is why we made it so obvious you had to have a coupon and that supplies were limited. Silly customers!” Even though their statements were accurate and the rules of the promotion were clearly promoted, this was the golden opportunity to preserve goodwill and make things right with their loyal fan base.

In the real world, problems are often unforeseen and inevitable. This is where social media shines as not just a mode to repair the damage, but possibly even come out as a knight in shining armor to bruised customers.

Ideally Starbucks would have read the mass of complaints, issued sincere apologies, and maybe even offered some other promotion or giveaway.  They could have won over lost customers and earned new customers by utilizing their online listening skills, directly responding to as many customers as possible.  They could have posted a blog, Facebook note, and tweeted their retribution for the free pastry fumbles. Where else does a brand have the opportunity to hear a customer complaint, have direct contact to fix that individual’s woes, and also blast out to the masses about their awesome customer care, all in 140 characters or less?

About Kate Shaw

Hailing from the high desert where I began my love with all things shiny by working with film production. Abandoning my love for film for a “real career”, I started marketing and PR for a non-profit in Sacramento. Having lived from Europe to Central and South America, I can ask for a beer in any regional Spanish accent one can imagine. Settling in Argentina, I did social media marketing for an international tourism company for 2 years before landing in Santa Monica and The Search Agency.

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3 Responses to “Starbucks Free Pastry FAIL”

  1. Seems internal communication is more of a challenge to Starbucks than external social interaction. All companies should consider internal socialization of communication as important to their success as any other.

  2. Barbara says:

    This is so interesting to me. Everyone thinks Starbucks is a top brand and yet the promotion itself (free anything during their peak hours) seems counter to what a promotion like this should achieve. Does Starbucks need ANY more customers before 10:30 am each day? Isn’t there a time of day where they want to remind customers to think of them? The comparisons with McDonald’s are completely fair: McDonald’s is taking on Starbucks where it hurts most: quality, choice, premium coffee drinks at a better price and in as many locations. That’s gotta hurt. So if Starbucks doesn’t think through their response (carefully) and have a customer friendly program that anticipates and answers any backlash, they are destined to fail. Next time they should try a free cookie at 5 program – and be ready to give out a lot of cookies……

  3. Zack MacLean says:

    Was this the promo that was only restricted between the hours of opening and 10:30am on one specific day? If so, the small window of a promotion is probably why it failed. I think Starbucks should have made the promotion have a larger window or promoted it in the latter part of the day. They already run an in-store promo for customers to get a discounted coffee on the same day after 2pm. Why not continue to promote for off hours if you are not able to grow the customer base during morning peak hours?


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