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10 Apr 2015

The Scene: Use Your Brand Wisely

Last month, Starbucks made news because of its “#RaceTogether” campaign, which aimed at starting conversations about race relations in America.

A bold campaign like this is sure to gain criticism, and this one sure did.

But why? Why would a global company like Starbucks be criticized for wanting to simply have discussions about race relations? What’s wrong with that?

Here’s why: Because Starbucks is a coffee maker, not a comparative ethnic studies class.

Here’s what Tai Tran, a social media marketing manager and grad student at UC Berkeley, wrote in an article on LinkedIn:

“A campaign on race relations and income disparity was quite ironic for a brand such as Starbucks. The nature of #RaceTogether did not align with Starbucks' corporate branding, thus was quickly met with disapproval from customers on the social sphere.”

Here’s another example of a big brand going where it has never been before:

In 2006, ESPN joined the mobile phone industry. 

Why? Why would a sports broadcaster that televises baseball games and football games and goofy people yelling at each other want to all of a sudden eat at the mobile phone table?

Good question. The quest ultimately failed just seven months after it launched.

When your business or organization wants to pull up a seat at a table you’ve never been at, you better be sure you’ve thought this out. 

Starbucks basically did a cannon ball into the race relations pool, whereas lowering itself down the steps of the shallow end and eventually wading over after getting a feel for things may have been a better strategy.

But give Starbucks and ESPN credit for at least attempting their respective leaps. As they say, you never know until you try. Luckily for these two brands, they won’t or didn’t lose much, if anything. ESPN is bigger than ever, and Starbucks still has long lines in its drive-thrus. 

So what can your business learn? Think things through. If you feel like you’re wading into territory that your brand has never been, be mindful of your audience’s perceptions.

And always understand your brand. Not doing so could be damaging. 

By Kevin Dudley, Spokane MarCom President