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Stand-ing for a better cup, to stop wasting forests

starbucks mermaid better cup
July 6, 2016

Our friends over at Stand, formerly Forest Ethics, are taking supply chain campaigning to a new level with their newly launched Better Cup campaign. They’re pushing Starbucks to stop wasting forests with its disposable cups. Stand is holding Starbucks to a promise it made way back in 2008, when the coffee giant promised that by 2015 it would use only 100 percent recycled and recyclable cups, and serve 25 percent of its drinks in reusable mugs.

That didn’t happen.

It’s 2016 and forests around the world are still being destroyed to make Starbucks cups, with 1.5 million trees every year used once and tossed in the garbage, when better alternatives are widely available. Stand has just released a scathing report detailing the damage wrought by Starbucks’ massive appetite for single-use cups.

In our recent work on supply chain campaign best practices, we identified three communications approaches that mark most successful campaigns. Stand is all over them with this campaign:

  1. Leveraging the brand. Stand was super-smart to target Starbucks. As both the most visible coffee brand in the world, and a company that has staked a fair bit of social capital on going sustainable, Starbucks is both vulnerable and powerful. And where Starbucks leads, others will follow, because the company has such a huge share of the paper cup market. Changing their business commitment to recyclable cups will send major signals up the supply chain to the big paper and timber companies. Once Starbucks changes its tune, positive effects for forests will extend far beyond the company’s footprint alone. Starbucks is also a huge presence in Seattle, where the campaign was launched, and sponsors tons of festivals and events – providing built-in opportunities for the campaign to get the word out.
  2. Visuals rule. The story of a wasted cup is not the most exciting or inspiring one. And it’s hard to convey scale when we’re talking about billions of cups. So how to tell the story of waste and opportunity in a way that grabs people and inspires action? With visuals! The Better Cup campaign has deployed a full suite of stunning visuals starring the Starbucks colors and central character, the green mermaid. With costumed mermaids popping up everywhere, speech bubbles for fans to take selfies with, and photos galore, the campaign is telling its story in sticky ways that spread the word without beating folks over the head. The visuals are fun, funny, and inspiring all at once.
  3. Storytelling matters – a lot. Framing the story of a big brand doing wrong, but able to turn a corner and stay true to its commitments, is a solid foundation for any corporate or supply chain campaign. Stand has gone even further and created a beautiful comic book telling the story of a heroic mermaid. The campaign was launched at Seattle’s famous ComicCon and anyone who signs the Better Cup petition to Starbucks (which you definitely should!) gets a comic book for their trouble. The storytelling aspect of the campaign wraps in visuals, characters and collateral in a way that provides a narrative of action and change. The data is clear that these kinds of stories galvanize action and engagement among audiences, and that’s what will sustain this campaign until the wins start rolling in.

So far, Starbucks has remained silent in response to the campaign. That reminds us of the campaign arc described by the great union leader Nicholas Klein in 1914: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they attack you. Then they build monuments to you.”

We hope to see a beautiful mermaid monument to Starbucks’ sustainable cups sometime very soon!

Belinda Griswold

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