The U.S. political environment is pretty bound up these days with the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, etc. All the CNN and MSNBC addicts among my readers (I imagine quite a few) are likely well aware. If you look to your Facebook and Twitter feeds you will likely see lots of griping and general dissatisfaction with the inability of our government to be able to work together as a team to solve our financial problems in an effective manner.
How do you get politicians to play nice? If you watch political dramas on TV (aside from the aforementioned “non fiction” news channels) like House Of Cards on Netflix then it might seem counter-intuitive and darn near impossible. But Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz would like to think that we can all get along and encourage collaboration – ease the bind in our governments bowels by lubricating the works with a steaming hot cup of coffee! In that spirit, there is lots of “free marketing buzz” around the Starbucks free brewed coffee promotion being activated this week at Starbuck’s nationwide.
The concept: today through Friday if you buy a cup of coffee for a friend or coworker you get one free. The political message Starbucks is serving up: let citizens lead by example by demonstrating a spirit of generosity, togetherness and collaboration. Obviously more of a marketing ploy to tap in to the political sensibility of those first-worlders with enough taxable income to be concerned about the debt crisis (and spend several dollars a day on coffee) than an effective political activism tactic – but it leverages a warm fuzzy social fact that connects well with the brand – the idea of coffee as a social lubricant in America.
I applaud Starbucks for being so intuitive with their brand strategy in that regard. Just like tea in Great Britain (and Asia for that matter), cigarettes in China (among only-child teens and twenty-somethings who seek to make friends by sharing smokes) and other forms of social bonding over consumables – Coffee in the US represents the spirit of community. It’s why Starbucks was able to so successfully launch a “third space” coffee house chain whereby people can find another place to be and hangout over hat’s not their office or a bar but still offers a stimulating incentive to get together. The coffee house trend became popular during the Beat era in the US and saw a resurgence during the 90′s. This was reflected in popular culture with TV shows like Friends where the cast of New Yorker characters would regularly meet at the “Central Perk” coffee house to catch up and bond over life’s big and little situations.
It’s a far cry to think that congress can solve the world’s problems by integrating some slow-drinking caffeine and cozy couches into their collaboration process. Methinks a bottle of Jack Daniels would go a little further, but I digress.
In any case – this narcissistic anthropologist can appreciate some good strategy – albeit a bit transparent – when she sees it. I raise my cup of Joe to the marketers who can find ways to make political statements while also making money.