Starbucks’ Upstanders series, now in its 2nd season, was conceived of and launched during the contentious election cycle of 2016.
In an interview with CBS News, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz described the need for the series by observing “we must do everything we can to reclaim and reimagine the American dream and fill the reservoir back up — not with cynicism but with optimism, not with despair, but with possibility, not with division but with unity.”
From the beginning, Schultz and co-producer Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s formula for inspiring storytelling was straightforward: they would focus on real people doing extraordinary things. In the ongoing Upstanders series that means telling stories about people who are doing “upstanding” things in their communities.
One of our favorites episodes (above) is the story of David Vobora, an ex-NFL player who had struggled with a painkiller addiction after a knee injury. The video tells the story of how he turned his for-profit gym into a training facility for disabled veterans.
The Upstanders series is an excellent example of a company using brand purpose as a vector for compelling storytelling. Perhaps most importantly, the production of the series is not beholden to a value-per-cup sales ROI. There is a value to this form of storytelling to the company that is transcendent, rather than transactional.
As Schultz explains in the CBS Interview, “Here’s what I believe — we can’t be in business just to make money. We must balance profit with conscience and humanity and benevolence and do what’s right for our people and communities,” Schultz said. “We can do all those things and create long-term value.”
Series 1 launched on the Starbucks app and, according to Schultz, reached an estimated 60 million people. Season 2 was expected to reach even further through partnerships that include Amazon’s streaming service, and Facebook’s Watch video platform. Additionally, the stories are narrated by Creed actor Michael B. Jordan and distributed for free on Audible. Altogether, across multiple platforms, the expectation is for the program to reach upwards of 100 million people.
Starbucks is demonstrating that whether you’re a B2B or a B2C brand, standing for something the key to standing apart. And in order to stand apart there really isn’t a formula more dependable than focusing on real people doing real things. That’s the key to creating meaningful and memorable content.
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