It Takes One to TexTango: Startup Says Deceived by a Fake Starbucks Employee

Mysterious 'Mary Fields' Promised It the World, According to Mobile Company

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Kunur Patel
Kunur Patel
"Starbucks will pay you to text." It was really too good to be true.

Last week, I received a pitch from a boutique PR firm with that very subject. Gold, right? Not so fast.

A couple of calls later and I find out that a mobile startup TexTango says -- key word here -- it's hooked Starbucks to use its new ad service, which pays BlackBerry users pennies to drop ads into their text messages. Basically, you send enough texts with Starbucks ads attached, you can save up enough for a frothy warm beverage. Both the pitch from Beck Ellman Heald and a TexTango exec told me that the coffee chain Starbucks had ads live on the service. So, I put in the obligatory call to Starbucks to see if the company would like to comment. I did not expect what came next.

Just as I'm putting the finishing touches on quick item about the admittedly strange new ad medium, a spokeswoman from Edelman responds to my e-mail to Starbuck's press address: "I can confirm that we are not involved in this campaign. If you have any info for us to view that says otherwise, please do send that over." Considering an external PR shop is responding, it must be a miscommunication. TexTango told me on the record that it's running Starbucks ads, so it had to be true, right?

So my next question for TexTango was this: Who, exactly, did you work with at Starbucks?

The answer came back: "Mary Fields from Starbucks Corp Sales" approved the campaign.

Then Edelman: "I am speaking directly with someone at Starbucks headquarters right now and they are confirming that Mary Fields is not listed in the company directory."

So, according to TexTango, one slippery "Mary Fields" is running around out there, posing as a Starbucks ad buyer, getting a less-than-a-year-old mobile startup banking on an ad-supported model into trouble with Advertising Age, not to mention one major advertiser.

Just minutes after I put TexTango in touch with Edelman to duke it out without me, Rudy Camacho, TextTango senior VP-sales and marketing wrote: "I want to commend you on your investigative skills. I just got off the phone with [spokeswoman] from Starbucks and apparently we got duped. There is definitely no Mary Fields over there and we're now in the process of collecting emails to find out who we've been corresponding with and what their motivation was."

"We're a very honest company. ... Where we did come up short however was our due diligence, and I appreciate your investigative efforts," he wrote today, after being informed of this blog post. "We were obviously deceived by someone posing as something they weren't and we'll be far more diligent from here on out."

Definitely a strange tale. What do you think readers? What could motivate "Mary Fields"? Who is she anyway?

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