Starbucks Continues to Use Culture and Politics for PR

We used to define the beginning of the “holiday season” when displays started going up in all the stores. In recent years, though, the surest sign of the impending holiday season has been a coffee cup.

It’s no secret where the leadership of Starbuck’s stand politically. They have come out staunchly in support of issues that are typically and consistently Democratic. This blue trend has riled up “red” voters more than once and is often used as a cheap touch point for right-leaning rabble rousers who want to get clicks or likes or attention. Remember last year’s’ Cupgate? Well, it’s back, and sooner than ever. But this time, the war on social media has become one more way for people — even strangers — to argue shorthand.

While most people are, once again, wondering where all the sturm und drang comes from, people on both sides of the political spectrum are posting opinions that “creatively” express their view of Starbuck’s views. And we’ve long since passed actually checking if those are, in fact, Starbuck’s views.

Like it or not, at this point, the brand has become a byword, more of a meme or a totem than an actual brand with actual products and political positions. It doesn’t matter that their latest Cup Statement comes as a plea for “unity” … that’s immediately translated, by both sides, as a statement in support of Hillary Clinton. Dems say “we need more unity and Trump is divisive” while Reps claim Starbucks is stealing a line from the Clinton camp.

This is what happens when a brand becomes so entrenched with one “side” that it can no longer just sell its product without everyone trying to dig for subtext.

Meanwhile, recent reports from various media sources reveal Starbucks is dealing with a larger politically-motivated issue. Lagging international sales. Growth has cooled in places like Japan, China, and Europe, falling much lower than sales numbers in the United States. Starbucks says those sales numbers could be directly linked to international worry over the U.S. elections.

There’s no doubt that U.S. politics has an impact on the rest of the world. CFO Scott Harlan told CNN, “election uncertainty continues to weigh on our customers around the globe…”

Other Starbucks executives said they expect sales to rise once the election is over and things are “back to normal” … but most political junkies here in the states believe the country has turned a corner. That “normal” is a thing of the past in American politics. The divide in this country won’t be healed by this election, and no amount of time or other motivation will reduce the amount of hatred one side has for the other’s candidate.

Consumer PR can be filled with pitfalls in this kind of environment, particularly for a company so closely aligned with a certain political side. Plans to navigate those traps must extend far beyond the outcome of the election.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W PR, a New York public relations firm.

Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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