Starbucks Red Cups: Marketing Genius or Sheer, Dumb Luck?

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“I’d rather be lucky than good.”

Fortunately for Lefty Gomez, an All-Star pitcher with the Yankees in the 1930s who used this quote throughout his 14-year career, he enjoyed seemingly generous portions of both luck and skill on the baseball diamond while compiling a lifetime 189-102 record and 3.34 ERA.

Golfer Gary Player, however, flipped Lefty’s quote on its ear when he said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” indicating that Player believed hard work and perseverance had much more to do with success than luck.

The contrast between these two quotes reflects the general disparity of opinions on the existence of luck. Google “does luck exist” and you’ll find limitless articles and message boards diving into this topic, with some even offering up equations like “P + M + O + A = L”, or “Preparation + Mindset + Opportunity + Action = Luck”. Which, of course, is more Player’s definition of Luck than Gomez’s.

It’s a fascinating topic to consider, particularly on the heels of Friday the 13th, and even more so in light of the Starbucks Red Cup “controversy” that’s dominated everyone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds for the past week. The initial outrage over the cups has been exhaustively debated, deconstructed and ridiculed, and the public reaction to the outrage has been just as exhaustively debated, deconstructed and condemned. So aside from saying that, as a Christian myself, I can confirm that we don’t all share the views of those who started the so-called #MerryChristmasStarbucks movement, this post will focus on what I find to be the most interesting question surrounding the issue:

What if Starbucks did this on purpose?

Could they have possibly known that bucking their typical trend of decorating their holiday cups with snowflakes and reindeer and snowmen and other wintry doodles in favor of a simple red cup with their green logo would enrage Christians who claim the cup is one more assault in the ongoing “War on Christmas”? Or that the passionate reaction to the cups would incite an equally passionate rebuttal from those who think all the fuss is just plain silly? Or that both sides would blow up social media with their photos and videos and #starbucksredcups?

My journalism professors would tell me to go find the answer, but of course Starbucks would never admit that their marketing plan was to pit one sector of their customer base against another. In fact, Starbucks says the cup is meant to be a “blank canvas” that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way.” Sounds reasonable enough.

So does that mean all this attention the company has received should be attributed to dumb, Lefty Gomez-type luck? Think of it this way: Has any marketing strategy Starbucks previously employed for their Christmas-themed cups gotten them this much exposure? Or perhaps this is where a “P + M + O + A = L” type of equation comes into play.

All I know is, Starbucks has everyone already talking about Christmas and paper coffee cups that get tossed into the nearest trashcan within 30 minutes. Whether that’s Gary Player luck or Lefty Gomez luck, it’s definitely a win for Starbucks.

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