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Why Starbucks' Race Together Campaign Failed

Starbucks did not spend time "discussing how it would look for a white billionaire to front a national dialogue on race."


In March, Starbucks launched one of its broadest initiatives ever: Race TogetherThe campaign — which aimed to spark a national conversation about race relations by having baristas write the phrase "Race Together" on Starbucks cups — was a huge failure. It also asked employees to engage customers in conversations about the delicate subject. Additionally, Race Together involved a set of strange and misguided "conversation starters" published in USA Today. Quickly, the campaign became the laughing stock of the internet. So why did Starbucks fail so hard?

According to an in-depth look by Fast Company, there was a lot of doubt about the Race Together campaign from the get go. Many of Starbucks' board members — while they agreed that something should be done — differed on how the company should approach the topic of race relations. Some members "felt that Starbucks should focus first on its own diversity shortcomings" while other wondered if approaching the subject publicly given "how volatile the issue had become" across the country was a good idea.

Schultz himself acknowledges one of the biggest flaws in his initiative — people "might find it hard to understand" where his empathy comes from. "I'm not black, I haven't lived a life in which I was racially profiled, and I wasn't discriminated against because of the color of my skin," notes Schultz. Additionally, Starbucks did not spend time "discussing how it would look for a white billionaire to front a national dialogue on race." Instead the company put their effort into scaling up what had worked — the "partner" (employee) forums. Even though when it launched, Race Together seemed to back fire, Schultz notes, "The irony is, we did create a national conversation — not how we intended, but you learn from mistakes."

So where does Starbucks go from here? Schultz says that he knows the chain "won't bridge the racial divide on its own" and that a coffee company "can only do so much." However, he hopes to keep pushing forward and pursue initiatives that matter to him with the "same vigor he pursues corporate profits."