Can We All Just Get Along… With Starbucks?

By William Branch


Brothers and Sisters, it’s that time of year again where we commune with close friends, family, significant others, and neighbors to rejoice over the holiday season.

Or that’s at least what Starbucks was aiming for.

Earlier this week Starbucks unveiled limited-edition, green cups (pictured below) in order to “develop ‘unity’ at a time of great division”, according to George Bowden.

Photo Cred: Pinterest

The design of the cup: People drawn together in a simplistic, green and white color with the authorial intent of celebrating ‘togetherness’.

What better way to showcase the melting pot that is America than to present a visual motif of that very principle and philosophy? I, for one, think it’s a very admirable endeavor on Starbuck’s part to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘open’. However, it was met with a few not-so-happy customer complaints on social media (photos below).

Photo Cred: Twitter
Photo Cred: Twitter
Photo Cred: Twitter

Starbucks has built a reputation in the past 2 years. A reputation built around trying to invoke crucial conversations amongst consumers. The #RaceTogether campaign, designed to get baristas and consumers talking about racial issues, ala open forum discussions, was meet with disdain. It was heavily criticized for its lack of consideration in how big and complex racial issues are. That level of Socio-political involvement was seen as a drop in the bucket of an even bigger issue happening in America. I would label it a faux pas.

The real problem is being ‘Politically Correct’ (PC). It’s tricky. Big brands such as Starbucks or Razer for that matter (photo example down below) have to toe the line constantly on social media to insure that their post or campaigns are not taken out of context or considered crude and insensitive.

Photo Cred: CNet

In this day and age where corporations actively seek to entice consumers into buying into their brand and/or products, engagement is key. Key to survival, to profitability, and to growth. So when Starbucks invents new ways to ‘spark conversations on race’, like their #RaceTogether campaign in 2015, or charter good faith by ‘advocating unity’ in 2016 they are creating more awareness for themselves, albeit with sometimes disastrous results.

Either way, it is good to see Starbucks learned from their past, understanding that they may have overstepped their reach when it came to appealing to their consumers’ core values. So they took a step back and found something that everyone ‘should’ be able to agree with; they kept it simple and thus allowed for their brand recognition to fall on the principle of inclusivity.


Bowden, George. “Starbucks Cups Controversy Prompts Bizarre Link to Islam.” Thehuffingtonpost, 2 Nov. 2016, Accessed 4 Nov. 2016.

Highfield, David. “Some Find Starbucks’ ‘Unity Cup’ controversial this Election Season.” CBSPittsburgh, 2 Nov. 2016, Accessed 4 Nov. 2016.

Matyszczyk, Chris. “Razer Mocks Apple MacBook Pro with Crude ‘Humor’.” CNet, 2 Nov. 2016, Accessed 4 Nov. 2016.

Somaiya, Ravi. “Starbucks Ends Conversation Starters on Race.” TheNewYorkTimes, 22 March 2015, Accessed 4 Nov. 2016.

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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism