Starbucks Unveils Content Series 'Upstanders'

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On Wednesday, Starbucks will unveil its first content series, "Upstanders," which will be available via written stories, videos and podcasts.

The free series, which the company began working on in January, is designed to highlight 10 positive and inspiring tales from across the country, including those of Baldwin, Mich., a town where residents have banded together to give every high school graduate a college scholarship, and John D'Eri, who employs autistic individuals to work at his car wash. Consumers can read the stories through Starbucks' website and download podcasts, produced by Panoply, on a weekly basis. The name "Upstanders" comes from an employee town hall meeting Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz held last year in which a staffer mentioned the word as an alternative to being a bystander.

"This isn't branded content trying to promote the Starbucks brand or product," said Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Starbucks executive producer and a former editor at the Washington Post, who wrote and produced the series with Mr. Schultz. "This is storytelling in the public interest, but brought to you by a Fortune 500 company."

Starbucks plans to promote the effort through its own retail and digital channels, including its mobile app, which Mr. Chandrasekaran noted has had 20 million downloads to date, and print ads in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The company partnered with Upworthy and as well to market the series to millennial audiences, and is working with Fotition, a new social change platform.

"We've got the entire company working on the social initiative project—the folks who this time of year would be all pumpkin spice latte-focused are devoting bandwidth to bringing this to life," said Mr. Chandrasekaran.

Though he declined to specify how much Starbucks is spending on the effort, he noted that it is a multi-million dollar campaign both in terms of the promotion and creation of content. "It was not cheap, but we felt this was something that was of vital importance to the country and we see it as a social impact initiative," he noted. Last year, Starbucks spent $81.4 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

This is not Starbucks' first foray into social issues. In 2015, the chain encouraged its baristas to write "race together" on cups and create an open forum to discussions about race and America. The effort was heavily criticized and lasted roughly a week.

For the quarter ended June 26, the world's largest coffee chain reported sales of $5.2 billion, a 7.3% rise over the year-earlier period. Same-store sales for the quarter were up 4% in the Americas, but missed analyst expectations. Starbucks executives noted that consumers may have been confused between a revamped rewards system and Happy Hour promotion.

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