February 4, 2013
Here’s how one simple marketing mistake unraveled into a 30-day public relations and sales nightmare for Starbucks, all because of one simple e-mail blunder:
In 2006, Starbucks ran a “Free Iced Coffee” Internet coupon but neglected to put an expiration date on it. Originally slated for limited geographical distribution, the coupon became “viral” and turned into a national sales nightmare with Starbucks giving away millions of free large iced drinks.
Experiencing extraordinarily high redemptions, Starbucks later posted signs in all of their retail outlets, stating the coupons were no longer valid, which angered a number of customers. Starbucks was then sued for $114 million on behalf of a regular customer when her coupon was not honored. She accused the company of fraud.
The upstart Caribou Coffee chain said it would honor all of the Internet coupons that Starbucks no longer accepts.
That same month, in Oregon and Washington, as part of its celebration for 35 years in business, Starbucks brought back its original mermaid logo — with breasts bared — on its cups. Local school administrators barred the coffee cups from school property.
A good PR firm is first and foremost a trusted adviser. A trusted PR firm could have anticipated the problems Starbucks faced and helped the company avoid needing crisis PR to rescue its reputation after the damage was done.