Starbucks Pays It Forward

Advertsing Age looks at a coffee giant’s random acts of kindness.

Don’t be surprised if sometime between now and Christmas a stranger gives you lift tickets in Denver, skating passes in Toronto or even free parking at a Michigan hospital.
They’re certainly not your typical holiday-stocking stuffers, but Starbucks is using such happy acts to kick off its holiday marketing program. Starting today Starbucks is surprising Manhattan commuters with free subway MetroCards and warming Chicagoans with free movie tickets. The catch is Starbucks wants consumers to pass on their benevolence by performing a good deed for another person, say, to hold open a door or buy someone a cup of coffee. With each deed, the recipient is handed a “cheer pass,” a numbered card that serves as a tracking device for the effort’s viral component.
As much social experiment as buzz campaign, Starbucks is hoping the cheer-pass recipients take the individually numbered cards and log on to the coffee chain’s holiday microsite,, to share how and where they received the pass. The idea is to follow how long people can sustain the “chain of cheer.”

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.