Cause Marketing in the Real World: Starbucks

By Joe Waters, Joanna MacDonald

Starbucks is a leader in cause marketing, an adopter of new, interesting, and innovative strategies. Here are just a few of its admirable programs through the years.

  • Ethos Water: Five cents from the sale of each bottle goes to clean up the world’s water supply.

  • Product (RED): Starbucks donates five cents from the sale of each beverage on World Aids Day to Product (RED). Starbucks stores also sell cups, bottles, and traveller mugs that support (RED) with a donation when sold.

  • Conservation International: Starbucks launched a Starbucks card to support CI. Each time customers used the card CI got five cents.

  • HandsOn Network: Starbucks joined with HON to encourage customers to pledge five hours of volunteer time as part of Barack Obama’s national call for service and encourage individuals to “create the change they wish to see.” Starbucks rewarded customer pledges with a free cup of coffee.

    Starbucks teamed up with the HandsOn Network for the Five Hour Pledge.
    Starbucks teamed up with the HandsOn Network for the Five Hour Pledge.
  • Starbucks Mobile Payments: Earlier this year, Starbuck launched a new smartphone app that allowed customers to make purchases with their phones. While this app has yet to be combined with a cause marketing promotion, mobile payments will play a key role in the future of cause marketing. As it has in so many other ways, Starbucks may be setting a new standard for how cause marketing will be executed in the years to come.

It’s easy to dismiss Starbucks as so unique and exceptional that there is no connection to you. You can only admire their achievements from afar. But wake up and smell the coffee. Most of Starbucks’ programs are simple purchase-triggered donation programs expertly executed in its stores. Scaled appropriately, they could work for companies and causes of all sizes.