How Starbucks Finally Won at Viral Marketing

Viral marketing campaigns are the holy grail of internet advertising. A campaign that takes off on its own, spreading organically from consumer to consumer, with little to no effort from its creator. After a history of notoriously clumsy attempts, Starbucks may have finally knocked one out of the park.

Earlier this week, news sites started promoting an already popular story: Mobile App Consultant Jonathan Stark released an image of his Starbucks digital payment card on his blog. The idea was that anyone that wanted coffee could use his card, free of charge, and that good Samaritans could make donations to refill it, should it go empty. The stunt was described as a “social experiment,” and was intended to show that there was still good in humanity, despite outward appearances.

Early cynics called Stark out, already smelling the tell-tale signs of forced viral marketing. Stark denied any connection with Starbucks coffee, and the public happily ran wild with the story. Now, one determined blogger has unearthed the ugly and more realistic truth. It seems that Mr. Stark’s employer lists (or rather, listed, since it has recently been removed) Starbucks as a client company. Is it coincidental? Perhaps, but most feel that the curtain has been thrown back, and Starbucks has been caught red-handed.

Whether or not Jonathon Stark is actually involved, the campaign has been a huge success. The card built up a balance of $3,651 from the starting balance of $30 (As of this posting, the card account has been emptied). A popular Twitter feed was set up to monitor the crowd-sourced card’s balance, and plenty of people enjoyed free Starbucks coffee. What happens now, remains to be seen, but few can doubt that Starbucks is laughing all the way to the bank.


Founded in 1989, WebbMason is one of the fastest-growing print and brand management service companies in the United States, helping marketing departments and their internal and external partners save money and streamline processes through a winning combination of industry expertise, exceptional print supply chain partners and technological innovation. Headquartered in Hunt Valley, Maryland, WebbMason has 20 sales offices throughout the United States.


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