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Social Metrics from the Starbucks "F" Word Crisis

Before the age of social media democratized communication tools, companies didn’t have to worry so much about back-channel communications going public, but these days all it takes to make a big corporation look silly is a lack of foresight.

Intellectual property and copyright law is something that Lathrop & Gage Partners David Barnard and David Waters know a lot about, so when we heard they were presenting a talk about the Top 10 Legal Pitfalls for Content Generators, we wanted to do a little research of our own to help support them.

To find some online trends and determine some social media context around an IP letter gone wrong, we monitored the terms surrounding the now-infamous Starbucks vs. Exit 6 ’F” word dust-up that happened right before the new year. Here’s a summary of the incident from

"Jeff Britton, the owner of Exit 6 Pub and Brewery in Cotteville, Missouri, received a cease and desist letter from none other than Starbucks, specifically from Anessa Owen Kramer of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, over a beer named “Frappicino.” As the world knows, the lords of coffee sell a frozen drink (a coffee Slurpee?) by the name of “Frappuccino.” Yes, the names are similar, but to be confused enough to think you could order the nectar of mall-hopping teenage girls at a bar, you’d have to be pretty drunk.

Rather than cower in fear over the legal consequences threatened by America’s coffee monarch, Britton decided it would be in his best interests to write a response on his own, without the assistance of legal counsel, because he didn’t need no stinkin’ lawyer."

Needless to say, Britton’s response spoke to the central core of why companies should think twice about cease and desist letters — and it was flat-out hilarious.

So it spread like wildfire across the web (and traditional media) and has a ton of adverse effects for the Starbucks brand.

Using the Spiral16 advanced online monitoring platform, here’s what we found:

  • 98% of all sentiment generated was negative against Starbucks.
  • 67% of all related talk about the case was on Twitter, 14% on other social sites, 11% on news sites, 6% blogs, and 3% video sites.
  • This was trending for approximately 2 weeks.
  • “Exit 6” was the 8th-most used word in the study, meaning Britton got A LOT of traction for his bar from this. (Exit 6 now has over 13,800 Facebook likes.)
  • Other popular terms from the study: hilarious, trademark, attention, small (as in the way people described Exit 6 as a small business – the David to Starbucks’ Goliath)
  • There were also (mis)spellings of ‘frappicino’ found in the study, meaning that this misspelling of their term is very common anyway, and pointing out what a dumb idea it was to send this letter in the first place!

Examples of themes of conversation:

Not surprisingly, by the time Starbucks got around to defending the letter four days later, it was too late. The David and Goliath image had been set in stone, and of course, their response (“We appreciate that Exit 6 Pub and Brewery respected our request.”) wasn’t shared nearly as many times as Britton’s.

It also wasn’t very funny.

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