Starbucks brewed up a hot #SocialFail with the #RaceTogether campaign

Mackenzie Holden


Photo of a #RaceTogether cup, launched by Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. Retrived from:


Response tweet to the controversial #RaceTogether campaign. Retrieved from:

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has always been an advocate for sensitive issues going on around the world and here in the U.S. of A.  Recently, he made 97 Seattle shop locations LGBT “safe” zones in an effort to support gay rights and the strides that the U.S. has made this year.  Schultz has never been one to keep quiet on an issue and thinks that using his platform to make a difference is his duty.  Although that is all true, according to many Americans, he made one big mistake with this #socialfail by launching the #RaceTogether campaign in response to the August 2015 shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, followed by several others like it New York, Madison, Wisconsin, and other cities.  Schultz backed the movement stating, “If we just keep going about out business and ringing the Starbucks register every day and ignoring this, then I think we are, in a sense, part of the problem.”  Starbucks released a video promoting the #RaceTogether campaign on its website to get things started.

Although his heart was in the right place, Howard Schultz was met with a high volume of skeptics on the idea because of the nature of the company and the racially charged sensitive topic.  Many saw it as Starbucks overstepping its boundaries into a territory it didn’t belong and joining a conversation that wasn’t appropriate for a white billionaire coffee shop chain owner to enter.

Despite his marketing team advising him to not take this sensitive social issue on, Schultz went on to encourage, but not require employees to write #RaceTogether on the Starbucks cups in order to strike a conversation about the racial inequality in this country and to remind customers that we are all in this together.  He made the statement “We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but we feel it is well worth the discomfort.”

The company received a lot of heat because of the way it was spread on social media, portraying mostly white employees “starting the conversation”.  It was seen as offensive and a bigger example of white privilege over anything, as seen below on the Starbucks Partners Instagram page.

Photo retrieved from:

Many thought that Schultz saw the tragedy as an opportunity to promote his brand, not considering how the public may feel in such a time on controversy.  He insisted that the campaign was not part of increasing the company’s bottom line, but a way to show his support for racial equality in a time of adversity.  On partner stated, “The current state of racism in our country is almost like humidity at times.  You can’t see it, but you feel it.”  Schultz also said that staying silent is not who Starbucks is.

Back lash continued to pour in from people all around the world, including celebrities, more notably, news comedians.  Specifically, John Oliver had a lot to say about the subject.  He pointed out that there was a place and time to talk about race and that it wasn’t in a coffee shop run by a white billionaire.  He also criticized the company for the way it reacted to the criticism.  Starbucks VP of Communications, Corey duBrowa, temporarily deleted his Twitter after he felt “personally attacked” by the slew of negative tweets targeted at him during the campaign.

Starbucks ultimately ceased the #RaceTogether cup writing phase on March 22nd stating that it “was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer term conversation”.  Schultz thanked the employees for committing to such a difficult conversation.

The bottom line is although the intentions were right, the platform was all wrong and the execution was flawed.  Better luck next time, Howard.


Baertlein, L. (2015, March 18). Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Campaign Brews Backlash. Retrieved from

Carr, A. (2015, June 15). The Inside Story of Starbuck’s Race Together Campaign, No Foam. Retrieved from

Masunaga, S. (2015, March 18). Starbucks Brews Up Controversy wity ‘Race Together’ Campaign. Retrieved from

Meyer, K. (2016, January 14). Crisis Management 101: Starbucks Stirs the Pot with #RaceTogether Campaign. Retrieved from

Nichols, J. (2015, November 12). Starbucks Turns 97 Seattle Locations Into LGBT Safe Spaces. Retrieved from

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

What ‘Race Together’ Means for Starbucks Partners and Customers. (2015, March 16). Retrieved from

Winters, M. (2015, March 25). The Buzz: Still Not Ready to “Race Together”. Retrieved from


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