June 5, 2012 at 11:54 AM ET
Frappuccinos and politics don’t mix, especially when dealing with the Irish and their contentious history with England.
With Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in full swing, Starbucks’ Ireland Twitter team thought it was a good idea to send this tweet Tuesday to its nearly 1,300 Irish followers:
The tweet was quickly met with a flood of angry tweets, including this one from @CiaranNevin that pretty much summed up the sentiment:
“What do we get if we show how proud we are to be Irish? Is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, your head of PR or what?”
The offending Starbucks tweet, which was posted for about four hours before the company tweeted an apology, was part of the company’s photo challenge in the UK and Ireland asking customers to send their “fun and creative photos” as part of a Frappuccino happy hour celebration.
Alas, it got lots of folks feeling less than fun, but pretty creative, and as of midday Tuesday, “Starbucks Ireland” was trending in Ireland, and #StarbucksIE saw hundreds of tweets of disapproval against the coffee giant. Many agreed the company was “frapped” for making such a social media blunder.
Was it a PR blunder or an intentional attempt at stirring the customer pot to gain publicity?
“I do not think this was a deliberate provocation by somebody who was smart,” said Rob Frankel, a branding expert and author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build A Big Time Brand - on the Web or Anywhere Else.”
“I think this is somebody who goes, ‘hey, watch this. I bet I can get a higher trending topic than you on Twitter,’” he said.
In the end, Frankel said, the tweet could hurt the company’s reputation in the Irish market and beyond.
The apology tweet from Starbucks stated:
"We erroneously posted to our Irish Twitter page meaning to post to the UK only. Customers in Ireland: We're sorry."
Unfortunately, the damage seemed to be done. The initial tweet even got the Irish press up in arms.
This from a story in IrishTimes.com titled "Starbucks in hot water over Irish tweet":
While Queen Elizabeth II was warmly welcomed during her four-day State visit to the Republic last year, it would seem from the response that Irish citizens aren't ready to rejoin the Commonwealth just yet.
Starbucks has 17 stores in the Republic. According to its latest figures, Starbucks has turned around the fortunes of its Irish business, making a profit of [$753,804] in the year to October 2011, compared with a loss of [$5.1 million] the previous year.
However, given its marketing failure, profits may be down somewhat in the future.
As of 11 a.m. EDT, the “proud to be British” Irish tweet was still up on the company’s Starbucks Ireland account and the angry Irish tweets were still coming in.
This one from @Weldoninhio will probably hurt the Starbucks marketing team most:
“Are you serious???? I will never use your store again. You need to hire a proper promo team and fire whoever made this tweet.”