Starbucks Real-Time Marketing

Starbucks Real-Time Marketing Asks America to Come Together

By Staff Writer
In October 17, 2013
2338 Views

“Real-time marketing” has been the buzzword of 2013, ever since that dark and milky night on February 3 when Oreo captured the world’s attention during one of the most anticipated advertising events in history — with one simple 22 character tweet. Over the past eight months, we have watched brand after brand try to duplicate that “Oreo moment.” Although we have not seen a real-time marketing slam dunk since, we have witnessed plenty of honorable mentions and, unfortunately, even more epic RTM failures. That ignited a debate about how important real-time marketing really is, and whether or not its impact is worth the investment. In a recent article, Jeff Dachis tells the real-time marketing naysayers to stop whining and start figuring out how to do it well:

“Brands are just inserting an ad into broad cultural conversation and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.”

He goes on to say that people are no longer second-screen viewing but are instead living. Marketers need to stop ignoring these changes or blaming it on a fad and learn how to embrace them. Real-time marketing success does not always happen on a global scale or even a Super Bowl scale. It’s happening on your social media feeds every day. Your community is talking, sharing and communicating what is important to them, what they like, need and want to see in the future. The smart brands are building agile marketing teams that are empowered to listen, respond and make a difference right now.

On October 1, the U.S. federal government partially shut down, furloughing around 800,000 federal employees, closing national parks, reducing many public health services and much more. If you have browsed any social network recently you’ve seen posts, comments, opinions and articles about the government shutdown. People are talking about it, there’s no doubt about that. Starbucks, a social media powerhouse that has quite a bit of clout in the social media universe with over 35 million Facebook fans and nearly five million Twitter followers, looked to capitalize on this real-time moment. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is not one for sitting on the sidelines when it comes to politics and the government shutdown was an opportunity to put the Starbucks brand front and center.

On October 9, Starbucks announced that customers would receive a free tall brewed coffee if they were kind enough to buy the next customer in line their favorite beverage, “not as an act of charity or thanks, but an acknowledgement of commonality and humanity,” CEO Howard Schultz explained. I woke up Wednesday morning to this little e-mail from Starbucks tapping into not only my craving for a cup of coffee, but also my human nature to want to do something to make a positive statement amidst a negative situation:

Starbucks Real Time Marketing Email

Customers flocked to Starbucks and whether they paid it forward for the right or wrong reasons, they bought coffee:


When asked in a phone interview about the #ComeTogether movement, CEO, Howard Schultz stated:

“So we asked ourselves: ‘What can Starbucks do, and how can we use our scale for good?’”

Starbucks did not stop with just a free cup of coffee, but continued with the next phase of the #ComeTogether campaign to get customers to sign a petition, asking government officials to:

  1. Reopen the government.
  2. Pay our national debts on time.
  3. Pass a long-term budget deal by the end of 2013.

Starbucks created e-mails, social media content/badges and even purchased newspaper ads which appeared in Friday’s USA TODAY, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post encouraging customers to tear out the ads, sign them and bring them into Starbucks stores.

Come Together Starbucks Email

Here is Howard Schultz’ personal invite via the Starbucks Instagram account asking customers to sign the petition:

Within 24 hours of sending the first tweet about the petition, Starbucks had gathered more than one million signatures.


Powerhouse brands like Starbucks have built up quite a following since the rise of social media — 35 million Facebook fans is nothing to sneeze at. In my opinion, with power comes responsibly. Starbucks and other social preeminent brands have a responsibility to listen, share and engage with their audiences through meaningful content that does more than just create more noise in their newsfeeds. Starbucks wisely capitalized on an opportunity to leverage its brand during a real-time event that let people engage in a conversation about a relevant, timely issue and, more importantly, take action. Within a 24-hour period, Starbucks generated two tweets, one Facebook post, one Instagram video and one e-mail — and collected over one million signatures.

Come Together Starbucks Facebook Post

Petition status: As of Tuesday October 15, Starbucks tweeted that they were nearing two million signatures. Twenty-two hours later on Wednesday, October 16 at 1:58 p.m., they tweeted the photo below of a Starbucks team member delivering the signatures to the Capitol.


Successful real-time marketing is not simply reactive. While it forces marketing teams to be fast on their feet, it also requires a careful and well-thought out plan. For example, last February during the Daytona 500, Tide was used to clean jet fuel off of the track after a nasty NASCAR crash. Tide got $8 million dollars in free media from an unintentional product placement when crews used their powdered detergent. They did not plan the crash or the clean-up, but they did quickly capitalize on the unintentional product placement after the fact by creating an ad called “Tide Ride.” Brands that are agile and respond quickly to leverage those fleeting real-time moments to reach consumers will succeed. One last example is Century 21. Like the government shutdown, people were all abuzz about the Breaking Bad series finale. Century 21 listened and strategically tapped into that by putting character Walter White’s house on Craigslist. They saw a creative opportunity to expand their target market and also align their brand with a real-time moment, and it paid off.

The purpose of this blog is not to be political or start a debate about the shutdown, but to highlight the Starbucks #ComeTogether campaign as an example of a brand smartly tapping into a real-time moment while empowering its social community to act. Some people may not agree with Starbucks taking a public stance, and Howard Schultz may indeed have a political agenda. But I bet he sold a few extra cups of coffee while garnering hundreds of free media write-ups, interviews and social media mentions. And, in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Is your brand listening to your community? If not, you may be missing valuable insights and opportunities to tap into a real-time marketing opportunity that not only engages your audience but also amplifies your brand. Need help understanding your community to leverage real-time marketing, drop us a line or comment below, we would love to dive in with you.

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!