Clever or deceptive?

John Winsor describes a Starbucks promotion

… when he saw a guy starting to drive off with a Starbucks’ coffee cup on top of his car. [He] whistled at the guy who promptly thanked him and got out of the car to hand him a coupon to Starbucks.

No doubt this is effective; it made an impression on the warn-er, it made an impression on John, and the story is being spread.

But it’s deceptive. John suggests (if I read him properly) that this promotion and indeed Starbucks are great. I don’t know how I would react, but hearing the story makes me angry and resentful. The work of fending off scams – any situation where someone wants something from you that will have to give up if you aren’t careful – is mighty. I can’t trust the person who chats me up in a bar (not that this happens to me personally, of course) in case they are promoting booze or mobile phones. I can’t trust the phone calls or emails I get. And now I can’t trust the person who needs a little Good Samaritan assistance. If I help someone get their bag under their seat on the plane ride home tonight, will they offer me a flyer about Samsonite? Gah, I hope note.

Our culture mostly expects a clear delineation between content and promotion (with many many many exceptions); the people I’m talking to this week about how they learn what foods go with what wines are a great example: if Trader Joe’s puts up an end-cap with a chalkboard that describes the wine on display, that’s okay. Sure, Trader Joe’s was paid by the wine maker to do this, but it’s preferable than having this information on the bottle. There’s a comfort and credibility in context; even if we understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Breaking through that, as Starbucks is trying to do is notable, but personally uncomfortable.

Update: this has been going on for at least a year


About Steve