Do they sell #skittles at #Starbucks? (DRAFT)

Work in progress.  Feedback welcome!

Starbucks’ recent social network ad campaign is a great illustration of the kinds of dynamics I’ve been talking about in the Lessons from Skittles for poets and activists series.  In yet another example of Twitter’s buzz-creation power, the ad campaign got coverage in the NY Times and Time even before launching.  On the other hand, in Skittles and infowar I concluded that anybody engaging in Twitter-based marketing or activism should expect interference … and that’s just what happens here.

Simon Owens has a good summary on Bloggasm:

Unfortunately for Starbucks, liberal activist and filmmaker Robert Greenwald, founder of Brave New Films, came across that Times article early Tuesday morning. Greenwald, who has directed films for major studios and launched Brave New Films a few years ago, had been working for months on shooting an anti-Starbucks video that debuted on YouTube that very day. The mini-documentary features interviews with several former and current Starbucks employees and makes the argument that the company –  despite popular perception that it treats its employees well — has unfair labor practices and has aggressively fought off union organizing.

Indeed, Stop Starbucks has detailed instructions for activists, including

2. Make a sign about how you think Starbucks treats its workers attempting to unionize. Then, take a photo in front of a Starbucks store or sign and post it to This site automatically uploads your photo and comment to your Twitter page.

3. In your post, include the following: #top3percent #starbucks @starbucks. (Just copy-paste them to the end of your Twitter message on TwitPic.) It’s important to include these in your post as it will appear in Twitter searches.

How cool is that?  It’s similar in some ways to how anti-Scientology activists Anonymous leveraged the Skittles campaign, but with more detailed instructions and some great video.

And sure enough, the tone of the Twitter search for #top3percent completely changed, and it’s now dominated by anti-Starbucks posts.

Stowe Boyd makes some good observations on /message:

Says a few things:

1. Twitter is so mainstream it IS the stream.
2. Twitter tags (hashtags) are rapidly becoming a commonplace.
3. Twitter bombing is a form of political expression in this case, but can be simply twam (Twitter Spam).

Of course, Starbucks’ contest was asking for the first five responses, so it was over loooooong before the activists reacted; most people probably didn’t see any of the anti-Starbucks posts. Their next mini-contest was on their blog, where by moderating comments they can keep out the negative stuff. And thus far the positive media they got has far outweighed the negative. So it seems to me that, like Skittles, they may well have been prepared for interference and had their backup plan in place. As Claire Cain Miller reports in the NY Times:

Starbucks has other social media initiatives planned for this campaign, including a contest for Starbucks store employees to submit headlines for future ads and YouTube videos with coffee experts talking about Starbucks coffee.

So this time there are two lessons from Skittles:

  • Start on Twitter, and be ready to move elsewhere as well.
  • As an activist, look for opportunities to capitalize on somebody else’s Twitter-based marketing or activism campaign.


If you’re joining us midstream, here are the earlier posts in the series:

  • Lessons from Skittles for poets and activists introduced the series, briefly described how Skittles’ Twitter-centric viral marketing campaign caught fire, and concluded that Activists and poets — and anybody else who wants media attention without spending a lot of money — should consider including Twitter in their plans.
  • Mr. President, do you like Skittles? and Activism at the speed of Skittles, looked at how a small group of activists used Twitter to highlight a question about homeless vets and it was answered on the White House blog less than 48 hours later. The conclusion: Things happen very quickly in the Twitterverse
  • What rhymes with Skittles? shifted attention to poets, looking at my brother Greg’s 30 Poets/30 Days project and the #kidlit #poetry hashtags, and concluded that Everybody knows: fun rules.
  • Skittles and infowar: #pman, disinformation, and trolls discusses the challenges of doing activism on an open channel in the context of the protests in reaction to Moldova’s disputed election results, briefly surveys surveys the different techniques for responding to trolling and disinformation, and concluded Expect interference — and have a plan to deal with it.