After a mere seven days, Starbucks wrapped up its widely-mocked “Race Together” campaign that encouraged baristas to strike up conversations about racial issues with customers.
Company spokeswoman Laurel Harper told the New York Times that the sudden end had nothing to do with the wave of criticism and ridicule the initiative met online and in the media.
“Leading change isn’t an easy thing to accomplish,” she told the paper.
But CEO Howard Schultz, who spearheaded the campaign and kicked it off on March 15 with an ad in the Times, acknowledged the negative reception in a memo on Sunday.
“While there has been criticism of the initiative — and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you — let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise,” Schultz said, according to the Washington Post.
Starbucks’ PR chief also acknowledged the feedback when he briefly quit Twitter over the abuse he received from promoting the campaign.
The Post reported that customers’ reaction was muted. (One barista: “There was almost like no feedback at all. Just like, ‘Whatever.'”) Elsewhere, however, the criticism Schultz acknowledged was outright hostile.
Those in the media didn’t shy away from poking Starbucks’ playing the compassionate corporation.
Rolling Stone’s Jeb Lund more or less predicted that “Race Together” would fold quickly, calling it “Howard Schultz’s novelty week” and noting the palpable apathy from the baristas themselves. Jezebel compiled a short, sardonic guide on how to discuss race with one’s coffee chain.
Even PBS anchor Gwen Ifill expressed her exasperation with the gimmick on Twitter:
honest to God, if you start to engage me in a race conversation before I’ve had my morning coffee, it will not end well.
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) March 17, 2015
Still, spokesperson Harper told the Times that Starbucks will continue to honor its mission, “to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”