From success to crisis and back again: the Starbucks #RedCups campaign on Twitter so far

November 20 2015
Published in Analysis

Since the beginning of November, Starbucks has taken over social media with the return of their seasonal festive cups. #RedCups was met with excitement from the brand’s fans, but the campaign has run into some trouble along the way, after certain customers expressed outrage at this year’s minimalist red design. But how much impact has the controversy truly had on Twitter, and has it cast a shadow over Starbucks’ festive campaign?

To find out, we collected all of the hashtags that have been created around the Starbucks Red Cups theme. We analyzed all relevant tweets using the Visibrain Twitter monitoring platform to try and find out which aspects of the campaign stand out the most so far: festive spirit or controversy?

Twitter explodes with the return of #RedCups

Since the return of the #RedCups, there have been 368,867 tweets about the campaign, sent by 290,487 users.

An overview of the Twitter stream during the #RedCups campaign

We can see from the Twitter stream timeline graph above that tweet volumes skyrocketed on November 1st when Starbucks sent this tweet:

At the time this article was written, the post had been retweeted an impressive 35,307 times.

Unsurprisingly, #RedCups generated a lot of photo content. If we look at the first week of the campaign, we can see that 24.6% of links shared in tweets linked to Instagram, as fans tweeted photos of themselves holding their favorite beverages and took part in the #redcupscontest Instagram competition:

The top domains of links shared in tweets about redcups

To get an idea of general public opinion around the return of the festive cups, we can look at top expressions used in posts about #RedCups. In the word cloud below, we can see that the most common expressions were mostly positive: “favorite drink”, “good day” and “old friend returns” are all in the top 20:

Top expressions used in tweets about #Redcups during the first week of the campaign

However, a closer inspection reveals some negative weak signals such as “War on Christmas”. Although the tweet volumes were very low at this point in time, they were most certainly a sign of things to come.

The Red Cup Controversy, true crisis or a storm in a coffee cup?

After the initial burst of excitement Twitter activity died down until Monday November 9th, when a second peak occurred. As we can see below, it was even larger than the spike in activity caused by the camapign launch:

The second peak of Twitter activity caused by the Red Cup controversy

It was the beginning of the “Red Cup Controversy”, started by Joshua Feuerstein who posted a viral video criticizing Starbucks’ choice to not include Christmas decorations on their cups. He urged Christians to “prank” Starbucks staff by saying their name was Merry Christmas, in order to get them to write it on people’s orders. Feuerstein then asked them to tweet a picture of their cup along with the #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag.

The protest gained momentum as the story was picked up by the mainstream media and by November 15th, the hashtag had been tweeted over 25,000 times. That would seem like a lot of bad publicity for Starbucks, but how much negative impact did it really create?

Feureustein’s protest sparked a flurry of negative hashtags around #Redcups. If we look at top hashtags used in tweets about the campaign between November 5th and November 15th, we can see that as well as #MerryChristmasStarbucks, a large number of other negative hashtags such as #boycottstarbucks, #waronchristmas and #starbuckshatesjesus also appear:

The most commonly used negative hashtags about #RedCups

To find out if a large number of people had truly been offended by the cups, we used #MerryChristmasStarbucks as a filter and looked at the most-retweeted tweets that used the hashtag to obtain context. The tweets in first, second, third and fourth place by number of retweets all either mock or criticize the protests:

The top twets that used the #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag

In fact, we have to go all the way to 32nd place to find a tweet that might actually be seriously protesting:

The #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag was often used outside of its original context. If we keep #MerryChristmasStarbucks as a filter and look at other hashtags that were used with it, we can see several hashtags that obviously oppose the protest, such as #lookpastyourcup, were often used in tandem with #MerryChristmasStarbucks, such as the tweet below:

The hashtags #lookpastyourcup, #getoveritpeople and #itsjustacup all appear in the top 10 hashtags that were used at the same time as #MerryChristmasStarbucks:

The top hashtags used in tandem with the #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag

The Red Cup Controversy may have seemed to generate very high tweet volumes at first glance, but with context it would appear that it didn’t have anywhere near as much impact on Starbucks as its supporters would have liked. Instead, it turned out to attract a lot of criticism and ridicule.

Starbucks had a clever reaction to the whole thing: they simply let social media work it out. @Starbucks didn’t post a single tweet about it all, and communicated very little about it elsewhere. By letting fans defend them and refraining from stepping in themselves, they avoided appearing defensive and fanning the flames of the controversy, allowing things to peter out on their own.

Although the #MerryChristmasStarbucks controversy generated high tweet volumes, it didn’t manage to cast a negative pall on the #RedCups campaign. Starbucks handled the situation very well, and in the end, managed to reap certain benefits from the pseudo-crisis, as it attracted a lot of publicity without being damaging to their reputation.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Stay up to date and subscribe to our newsletter and receive media monitoring best practices, social data trends & exclusive case studies:

This field is not valid

Thank you! We will contact you shortly.

Published in Analysis