Starbucks, the Internet and Compassion or Everybody is an ass and nobody wins.

17 Aug

Woohoo, looks like I’m going to write my first opinion piece.

Starbucks, the Internet and Compassion

or Everybody is an ass and nobody wins.

Gather around and let me tell you a tale of kindness, curiosity, malevolence, charity, skepticism, surprise, greed, underhandedness, vindication and closure.

But what did we learn?

Oh wait I jumped the gun a bit.

How it all began:

We start with the first character: Jonathon Stark.

Jonathon Stark had a wonderful idea. Some would call it idealistic, others would call it inspiring. He got a Starbucks card and made the information publicly viewable online. The idea was that anybody could take money from the card to buy a coffee, but anybody could also put money into the card. Thus Began the story of “Jonathon’s card” or “Give a coffee, get a coffee.”  The idea was to inspire acts of kindness in a “social experiment”

For a while this actually worked. People were getting free coffees, but money was going back into the card just as often as it was going out. Jonathon himself had put in over 100$ into the card and many others were doing the same.So a bunch of people started a money pot for coffee and were actually using it for the intended purpose. There was always money in the card, despite the odds.

Then the inevitable happens:

Our second major player is a man named Sam Odio.

Sam Odio looked at this “Social experiment” and decided it wasn’t interesting enough for him. He was bored by the idea of  relatively simple experiment that had gone over smoothly and decided to spruce things up a bit by making a script that would detect whenever money in the card went over a certain threshold. he would then move the money from the public card to his card. Using this method he could drain money from the card without bringing it down to zero. He Worked at this for one afternoon and managed to get himself $625 from the giving public. Enough money, as Odio himself points out, to buy an iPad.

Odio did not use the money to buy an iPad though. it’s a Starbucks card after all, so you can only use it for buying coffee and other things, which is exactly the point of the shared card anyway. But He also did not use the card for coffee…

The plot thickens:

Once Sam Odio got the money and it was secured he wrote a blog post about the exploit entitled “How to use Jonathon’s Card to buy yourself an iPad” He then went on to explain that he was going to see the card information on eBay.

What? For his own personal gain? No, he was going to donate the proceeds to charity based on the premise that “There are more important things we should care about than buying each other coffees”

Well he has a point, I guess. Perhaps this was undermined slightly when his brother, Daniel Odio, put 625$ back into the card.

Another point that Sam Odio made was that other people had likely been doing the same thing and they were probably doing it more right after he made the post. These people were not doing it to make a point and give money to charity though, these people were just doing it for personal gain.

Of course, there’s a twist ending:

Enter character 3, Andrew Hetzel

Andrew Hetzel found out about this whole business and was skeptical.

A man starts up a “social experiment” with the intent  of showing the kindness of strangers in a franchised coffee shop. Of course this kindness was centred on spending money at Starbucks and not just being kind. Coincidentally, in addition to showing off how wonderful Starbucks customers were it also featured a new method of payment Starbucks was introducing. As a final point, the experiment was mostly successful and there was always money in the card. Many, many reporters and newspapers flocked around the story like screeching vultures over a really compelling display of human nature a cow or something.

If you think that the above description sounds like a Viral Marketing strategy, then you are not alone. Andrew Hetzel made a blog post examining the link between Stark and Starbucks. He supposed that although Jonathon claimed he was not working for Starbucks, he was working for a company that was employed by Starbucks.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Starbucks had such allegations levelled at it. This blog uses a frightening amount of phallic metaphors to suggest that several years back, Starbucks was using a viral marketing scheme that involved “The kindness of strangers (at Starbucks)” and “Giving (money to Starbucks)”

So the question remains, Is this a viral marketing campaign?

I guess this is the denouement:

Jonathon released a reply to Andrew. in it he claims that not only is he not affiliated with Starbucks, he is deeply hurt by the insinuation that he was. If you can scroll down you can see hives of screeching loyalists jumping to defend their glorious mega crop Starbucks and their new messiah Jonathon while they pounce on Hetzel. Ok Jonathon’s statement itself seems rather convincing but I’m always inclined to disagree with something when a large number of people comment on something in an annoying fashion. This is why I no longer care about the environment.

Anyway, Starbucks released an official statement and Mobiquity released a statement. I’m not linking either of them, so just take my word for it when I tell you that both of them said they were not involved with Jonathon or each other.

So was Jonathon a viral marketer? There’s a very good chance he wasn’t, however, he still set up a marketing campaign for Starbucks that one a lot free publicity, it’s just a matter of whether he was payed for it.

So at this point a lot of people jumped all over Hetzel and claimed he was  a jerk for even showing skepticism at the thing, I suppose also implying that we should take everything (especially from giant corporations) at face value. This blog even says that Hetzel should apologize because he hurt Jonathon’s feelings. I’m not even going to bother mentioning that blogger’s name because that is one of the most smug and smarmy posts I have ever seen. The blog also reacts with such shock at the idea that, get this, a company is using the internet(!) in an underhanded marketing strategy.

A conclusion:

Well, after a brief struggle with eBay’s selling restrictions, Odio is Selling the cards he owns for charity. He’s written a few posts about the aftermath of the whole thing which you might want to read. Unsurprisingly, a number of people hate him now as well.

Hetzel made a recovery post proclaiming that he could be wrong but he would “wait and see” which, translated, means that he’s probably wrong but he won’t admit it ever. Since his blog doesn’t really matter, everybody will likely forget about him.

Starbucks has decided to shut the whole thing down. From a legal standpoint they could have done this at any time but decided to do it now because everything imploded. Don’t worry, Starbucks still has a hugely devoted fanbase.

And Jonathon Stark is doing well. He now has a legion of followers who will defend him at a moments notice and depending on whether or not that was gold card, he may be recieving 1 free drink for every 15 drinks bought with his card. Keep in mind of course that somebody made 625 dollars by just skimming the card for 5 hours.

My thoughts:

So what did we learn?

Well we learned there are a surprising amount of coffee themed blogs that’s for sure.

Oh and we learned some other stuff. I’m bad at making transitions so here we go.

In my opinion this was one of the best social experiments of all time. Not the actual experiment about buying coffee or something, but the whole thing that developed around it. This turned into a fascinating read and perhaps the best thing about this? No one was right.

Actually that’s probably more depressing as well. But you see here on the internet, perhaps in real life as well, everybody is an ass

Who is an ass and why?

Let’s start with Sam Odio. He’s a very tricky case. What he did was probably legal, because when Jonathon set up the card and said “Use this for coffee” there were no restriction on how much a person could take. He filled up his own cards with money, which is admittedly not Jonathon told him to do but words aren’t legally binding. If you throw your money on the ground and tell people to use it to buy coffee, don’t be surprised when it ends up being used on drugs or charity.

But is he an ass? Yes. there is no doubt that he is an ass. regardless of whether or not you agree with him, what he did was asinine. People had their own little system set up and he destroyed the whole thing. Way to go.

Next up, Hetzel. Is he an ass? Well skepticism alone is not something I would condemn as asinine, but you could make the case that his mistrust of other people and stubbornness on the issue at hand both make him asinine. Yep.

Finally, Jonathon. This is a difficult one. If he was a viral marketer, then damn he was the biggest ass of all. In the increasingly likely case that he wasn’t he may still be an ass if he is getting the free coffee off the backs of strangers. Otherwise, not really a huge ass, but perhaps misguided.

Oh wait I have one more: The legion of screeching fans. these guys were the biggest asses. They when absolutely berserk on  anybody who disagreed with their notions and have even threatened Sam Odio, which is just not cool.

So who wins? Nobody, nobody except for Starbucks and starving African children. I guess this means that this is one of the few times I can say “A bunch of white people were all jerks to each other on the internet  and the only people that benefited were starving Africans.”

I feel like I still have some unspoken thought so let’s get this out of the way.

I think at the end of all this, I like Sam Odio the most. Or at least more than others. You see, I’m not entirely sure what the whole thing was with the Card anyway. As far as I can figure, a bunch of wealthy white people put money into this card that was later used by other wealthy white people to pay for a coffee they could easily afford. A Starbucks coffee mind you, so it was an overpriced luxury item. I don’t know why this was even considered a charitable display of human kindness in the first place.

I guess the next bit would be to look at the dynamics. I assume that most people that bought a coffee did not put money back into the card, or if they did, I’m not sure what the point was since you ight well have just bought your own coffee. So if you look at it in that sense, tons of people were taking more money out of the card then they were putting in. Other people were probably scamming the system before Odio was as well.

There are two differences between Odio and those people

1) His brother but the same amount of money back in the card  meaning there was no net difference on the card.

2) He wrote a blog post.

If he never did step 2, then nobody would have cared or threatened him.

Finally, I think that his final point, that there are more important things to care about than buying coffee, is correct.

Now not that I think that Jonathon’s experiment wasn’t worthy in itself, it was. For a case like this you don’t need to pick sides, simply put, I think everybody was right and wrong in their own ways, but I felt like Odio wasn’t being given enough credit.

Alright, I am getting very tired of talking about this issue and by the time it is posted I’ll be in Montreal, so form your own opinions.

Also, Abi, feel free make addendum or minority report or something.


5 responses to “Starbucks, the Internet and Compassion or Everybody is an ass and nobody wins.

  1. Swag Valance

    August 17, 2011 at 15:28

    Great post. I still suspect that Stark and Starbucks are not being honest, but that’s just me. Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist, but it would probably be the first time. In large part because Starbucks has been caught with these hands-off story placements in the past, and in part because Stark’s Mobiquity scrubbed all Starbucks references from their corporate Web site just as this story broke.

    It has gotten a lot easier in this day and age of “citizen journalism”, aka blogging and whatnot, where the journalistic standard has been “He said so, therefore it must be true.” Instead of the Woodward and Bernstein standard of, “He said so, but people have been known to lie on occasion. How do we really find out if he’s telling the truth?”

    If anything, this episode suggested that the biggest losers were the general reading public whose standards for reporting and fact-finding have eroded into non-existence.

    • Son of Hipster

      August 20, 2011 at 11:22

      Yeah it’s fishy and it does look awfully suspicious but there’s a good chance he wasn’t as well.

      It’s hardly crazy to suggest that a company would go about a viral marketing scheme like this, but just because it could have been the case, doesn’t mean it is.

  2. asyuli4211

    August 18, 2011 at 16:52

    I’m surprised you like Odio the most, actually. He was trying to streal initially. Although ya, everyone is a bit at fault here. Except for Odio’s brother. He’s a cool bean.

    • Son of Hipster

      August 20, 2011 at 11:31

      I don’t think he was ever trying to steal, since he specifically siphoned money from the card to write a blog post and donate to charity. If he was intending to steal, he would have just taken the money.

      Really though, the definition of stealing from a public card is weird as well. For instance, if I use the card to buy a coffee without putting money back in, am I stealing?

      As for Odio’s brother (Who I could also refer to as Odio I guess since- nevermind) I think there’s more going on there but I can’t be bothered to look into it.

  3. AnotherTake

    August 19, 2011 at 00:19

    Well I think he brought up a good point in the fact that people are willing to donate an uncalled for amount of money for extremely overpriced coffee but would never even contemplate about donating to a less self profiting cause. He just shows flaws in our twisted society.


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