business news in context, analysis with attitude

It was just about a month ago that MNB reported how the Starbucks coffee shop on the campus of Baylor University in Texas, operated by Aramark, stopped using some of the familiar paper cups that bear a specific quote. (All of Starbucks’ paper cups carry one of more than two dozen quotes that are designed to range from the inspirational to the provocative.)

The reason? Baylor is a Baptist institution, and the quote is from novelist Armistead Maupin, who happens to be gay – and the quote is seen as being inappropriate for a religious college.

The quote: "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short."

We noted that Starbucks likes to use the cups as “a way to promote open, respectful conversation among a wide variety of individuals.” And, we commented that we didn’t read the Maupin quote so much as promoting a gay lifestyle as promoting the notion that life should be lived without fear…which didn’t seem like such a radical concept to us.

A lot of MNB users objected to both the quote and our characterization of it, and charged that Starbucks could be accused of promoting either a gay lifestyle or unfettered liberalism – maybe both. And if there was one comment that kept being repeated, it was that the company would never put a quote on its cups that could be construed as pro-Christian.

Which ends up not being true.

Starbucks has announced that next spring, it will add a new quote to its line of paper coffee cups, this one from Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-driven Life.” The quote:

You are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. He wanted you alive and created you for a purpose. Focusing on yourself will never reveal your real purpose. You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense. Only in God do we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance and our destiny.

As with all the 63 quotes used by Starbucks, this one says that it does not necessarily reflect the position of the company or its personnel. And the company remains consistent to its explanation for the quotes – they are there to engender discussion, which helps to create community among its customers.
KC's View:
This is a very smart thing for Starbucks to do, because it both opens a discussion that is certainly worth having and disarms some of its critics. Talk about a win-win.

There will be those who will say that a coffee cup should just be a coffee cup, and nothing more, just as there will be folks who will say that a café should only be a coffee shop. And that’s fine, and they should choose products and venues that suit their needs and preferences.

But we would argue that retailing that stands for something, that creates something more than a place to buy stuff, is the kind of retailing that makes a difference, that establishes a clear connection to the consumer.

Certainly, it is retailing that is not necessarily for everyone.

But that’s okay.

(Just as this discussion on MNB may not be for everyone…this is twice in two weeks that we’ve ended up talking about the nature of God in this space. Go figure.)