Caribou Coffee capitalizes on coupons

Posted on September 6, 2006 8:11 am by | Marketing

Talk about a smart move. Caribou Coffee has turned a Starbucks gaffe into an opportunity to promote itself.

In case you missed the story, Starbucks hastily canceled a promotion it had launched to get people to try its iced coffees. A coupon for a free iced coffee was linked to an email Starbucks sent to employees to share with friends and family in the Southeast. How Starbucks didn’t see this email going viral is beyond me, but they didn’t. The coupon spread and counterfeit versions appeared. Starbucks pulled the plug, earning them “loser of the week” designation on Joseph Jaffe’s Across the Sound new marketing podcast.

Most marketers would kill for a promotion to go viral like that. Most marketers would swallow the cost of all those drinks they hadn’t planned to give away in order to get that many people into their stores to try an iced coffee…and maybe get them to come back again and again to buy more. 

Among those who see the value of such a giveaway are the folks at Caribou Coffee, who recognized the potential in Starbucks’ mistake to serve its own interest. The company quickly communicated that it would accept those coupons—but for only this Friday from noon to close of business and only while supplies  —for a medium-sized cold-pressed iced coffee, iced Americano, or iced tea. The same offer went out to subscribers to Caribou’s email mailing list.

Caribou’s CEO Michael Coles, quoted in a Denver Post article, said, “We want to introduce gourmet coffee lovers to a great new product, Cold Press iced coffee.”

When CC Chapman passed this story along to me, he noted he’d never heard of Caribou Coffee. (I have—they’re all over Washington, DC. It was a Caribou Coffee barista who told me that light roast has more caffeine than dark roast, leading me to switch. I love caffeine.) I bet CC isn’t the only person who’s heard of Caribou now. Caribou’s quick thinking is Starbucks’ loss.

This isn’t the first time Caribou has trumped Starbucks. The ubiquitous Starbucks offers WiFi, but only to those with a T*Mobile WiFi account. Late last month, Caribou announced free WiFi for its customers (PDF of press release). Smart marketing like that could result in some of Starbucks sales migrating over to Caribou.

09/05/06 | 7 Comments | Caribou Coffee capitalizes on coupons



  • 1.Shel, you just made my day!

    I've been lamenting the dearth of coffee shops with free wi-fi in Oak Park, the charming Chicago-ensconsed suburb in which I live. There are none, in fact. None.

    But there *is* a lovely little Caribou Coffee, and I'm delighted to hear that its wi-fi will now be FREE! No more running to the big, impersonal Panera Bread the next town over just to work while sipping a latte!

    Heidi Miller | September 2006 | Chicago

  • 2.I'm fortunate to live in the land of cool independent coffeeshops. When I travel I also try to find alternatives to Starbucks. I was near Nashville recently and tried a local coffeeshop with free wifi but the latte was so hot it scalded my mouth. And I couldn't connect to their wifi. I threw my coffee out and drove down the street to Starbucks.

    I'll definitely look for Caribou. The free wifi is definitely worth my time and effort to find them over the ubiquitous 'Bucks.

    Britt | September 2006

  • 3.Caribou Coffee is way cooler than Starbucks, not just because of Caribou's opportunistic marketing approach, but because the Olney, Md., outlet has live music on Fridays, featuring great original-music bands like the Marsh Brothers!

    Greg Marsh | September 2006

  • 4.One rainy day a few weeks back I was trekking to work debating what to get for breakfast when I noticed a Starbucks barista handing out free coffee and half-slices of lemon loaf to passers by. I thought, "How brilliant! Now THAT is good marketing!"
    When I recently received the PDF touting "Free Starbucks Iced Coffee" I couldn't believe my luck again. That is until I went downstairs to redeem the coupon. They had a copy of it strapped across their registers with "NOT ACCEPTED" written in thick black pen. Total bummer! (Not to mention good will killer.)
    I'm glad Caribou is taking this mistake and running with it. It's truly great business for so many reasons.
    And thanks, Shel, for bringing it to light!

    Bekki | September 2006

  • 5.I agree that Caribou's move was an amazing marketing tactic!

    I myself have never heard of Caribou Coffee before this gaffe (which makes sense seeing as how there are no Caribou Coffee houses in Tennessee). But after hearing aobut this through MarketingVox, I researched the company's website. I must say, I was impressed by what I saw!

    Now, because of their quick action, I not only know about Caribou Coffee but I am really eager for a location to open in the Nashville area!

    Michael Morton | September 2006 | Tennessee

  • 6.I work at Caribou and today is the day that "promotion" is being set. From noon through closing we offer free iced coffee, iced americanos and iced tea.
    I'm glad this oppurtunity is opening consumer's eyes across the world to Caribou Coffee!!!!

    Becki | September 2006

  • 7.Starbucks is giving free coupons to ANYONE who calls up customer relations to complain about the email they received. Get yours before everyone starts calling and they crack down again.

    Jake Wolf | September 2006

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