Starbucks to Give Free Coffee to Voters

Broke First TV Work From New Agency BBDO on 'SNL'

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CHICAGO ( -- Starbucks is giving away free coffee on Election Day to anyone who says they voted -- and the chain that famously eschews TV advertising announced the promotion with a quickly assembled 60-second spot that aired during this past weekend's episode of "Saturday Night Live" featuring GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.

The spot comes from Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, the marketer's new agency, and was the brainchild of Chief Creative Officer David Lubars, who presented the idea at the Starbucks leadership conference in New Orleans last week. Agency and marketer worked fast to get the spot on air. The result is sparse: green lettering over a backdrop that appears to be burlap and a piano music soundtrack.

Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe declined to provide an estimate for turnout, adding that consumers shouldn't expect a hassle for their free java fix. "Voters simply need to cast their votes, and then tell the barista at their local Starbucks," she said.

The 2004 election brought out an estimated 122 million voters, a number widely expected to be surpassed this year. Darren Tristano, exec VP atTechnomic, estimated that if 150 million people vote, a good turnout for Starbucks would be 1%, or about 1.5 million people. That breaks down to about 136 people per 11,000 Starbucks location in the U.S. Assuming a 30-cent cost on a tall cup of coffee, that's about $60 per location.

"It's going to drive a lot of traffic. Those people may linger and order more food," Mr. Tristano said. "And that's an upside on the margin." He noted that Starbucks isn't the only marketer trying to get Americans to vote. Ben & Jerry's is also giving free scoops to voters, according to its Facebook page. received plenty of reaction. A number of commenters argued about the ethics behind providing an incentive to vote, and one barista was upset to have heard about the promotion along with the rest of America during "Saturday Night Live." Others mused about whether early voting, which has been taking place in many states with record turnouts, might disqualify them from free joe. Many others applauded the effort.

Of course there's no disagreement that Starbucks is in need of a jolt. The company's earnings, traffic and same-store sales continue to slip. Chief Executive Howard Schultz warned last week that third-quarter same-store sales will show a greater-than-expected decline.

Starbucks' first round of TV work, from former agency Wieden & Kennedy, met with much critical acclaim, including Ad Age's critic, Bob Garfield, but the spots failed to provide a noticeable sales lift.

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