Starbucks Gets a Double Shot of Backlash with #RaceTogether Campaign

Kelsey Miller

When Starbucks put the conversation of race into coffee shops, it made people second-guess when ordering a black coffee, a caramel macchiato or a white chocolate mocha.

Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz expressed his concerns with race relations in the U.S. to partners (Starbucks refers to all employees as partners) shortly after the Ferguson, NYC and Oakland shootings and asked their opinions.

Shultz received insights from Seattle partners about their experience with racial tensions. After holding 2,000 open forums with partners sharing their personal stories of racism in L.A., Oakland, St. Louis, New York City and Chicago, the CEO decided to use his chain to make it a forum for all customers.

And the Race Together campaign was born. The purpose of the campaign was simple: initiate the conversation of race. Baristas were asked to put “Race Together” on coffee cups to strike up a conversation with customers about race with the hope of it becoming a national conversation online with the hashtag, #RaceTogether. The New York Times and USA Today gave Starbucks a one-page ad space to show support of the cause.

Then, the people spoke up…

Tweet from AdWeek (

Tweet from BBC (

Crystal Fleming from the Huffington Post voiced her concerns about the lack of formal knowledge on race. Because Starbucks’ intention was to merely have baristas starts convos about race, the company made the point when confronted on Twitter that they were not educating their partners about race through formal training. As an African American woman that is educated on race, Fleming pointed out that racial ignorance is really harmful in that it could alienate people that have been affected by racism.

“I do not want to hear from random members of the public who have not studied race share their uninformed opinions with or around me in the early morning hours,” Fleming said.

She’s obviously not alone…

Tweet from Buzzworthy

Tweet from AdWeek

Kate Taylor, from Entrepreneur, agreed with Fleming but also took the defense of the baristas in her article. She’s concerned with the barista POV in the things they would hear if talking about race with others. If a customer were to say something ignorant or offensive, is it the barista’s obligation to address it or take “the customer is always right” approach?

“…Race Together goes beyond offering a weak solution – it shifts the responsibility for finding a resolution to employees suddenly tasked with a role that was never in their job description,” Taylor said.

Another tell tale sign of the #socialfail of the campaign happened when VP of Global Communication, Corey duBrowa, deleted his Twitter account temporarily due to the criticism of the campaign.

“I was personally attacked through my Twitter account around midnight last night and the tweets represented a distraction from the respectful conversation we are trying to start around Race Together,” duBrowa told Business Insider. “I’ll be back on Twitter soon.”

Tweet from Business Insider

Tweet from Business Insider

Tweet from Business Insider

Yet another #socialfail sign is the fact that SNL made a spoof about it…

PR Week asked pros to analyze what went wrong with the campaign. David Johnson, CEO of Strategic vision told PR Week that more advertising would have been key.

“Starbucks failed to lay proper groundwork and preparation in launching this initiative. There was no massive explanation of what the company was seeking to do,” Johnson explained.

Mr. Johnson makes a great point in that there wasn’t much context to what the coffee chain envisioned for this campaign. It just happened all of a sudden. The idea was unrealistic in this day in age. If Starbucks wanted to make a statement about race, another idea would be to invest in putting employees through formal diversity training or donating money to professional organizations that focus on starting a conversation about race instead of taking matters into their own hands.

In 2016, we’ll just leave it to Beyoncé to talk about race relations.



Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ Is A Visual Anthem. (2016, February 11). Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Bradley, D. (2015, March 18). How Starbucks can bounce back after Race Together flop. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Crellin, O. (2015, March 17). Starbucks #RaceTogether campaign mocked online – BBC News. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Cullers, R. (2015, March 18). The Internet Is United in Despising Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ Cup Campaign. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Fleming, C. (2015, March 19). #RaceTogether and the Harm of Racial Ignorance. Retrieved February 15, 2016, from

Maskeroni, A. (2015, March 30). Pep Boys Mechanics Reflect on Gender in SNL’s Perfect Spoof of Starbucks’ ‘Race Together’ Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Peterson, H. (2015, March 17). A Starbucks exec deleted his Twitter account after backlash over the company’s ‘race together’ campaign. Retrieved February 15, 2016, from

Starbucks Drops its ‘Race Together’ Campaign After One Week. (2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016, from

Taylor, K. (2015, March 17). Why the Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Campaign Is Bad for Business. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

What ‘Race Together’ Means for Starbucks Partners and Customers. (2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016, from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s