Controversy caused by driving away police a PR lesson for Starbucks: Global Times editorial
Published: Feb 16, 2022 11:16 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Starbucks apologized for driving away four local police eating food outside a Starbucks store. But the backlash caused by it has not yet passed. Reports show some people sent white flowers to the doorstep, some threw eggs and obstructed the cleaning staff from cleaning up to show their dissatisfaction toward the company. First, we want to say that such behavior should not happen, nor were they necessary. We oppose any radical moves. And it is believed this is not what the majority of the Chinese people would like to see, nor does it represent the general public opinion in China.

At the same time, sentiment on the Chinese internet about Starbucks' deed is real and occurred for a reason. Unlike the situation in some Western countries, Chinese society recognizes the work of the police and shows solicitude for their hard work. When some netizens exposed a Starbucks staff asking the four policemen eating food outside a store to find another place, citing the policemen's presence could affect its brand's image, people's discontent can be imagined. This is not nationalism as some people argue, but the simple and spontaneous respect of the people for the police.

As an American company that has been deeply developed in the Chinese market for many years, with its main business strategy being integrating into the community, Starbucks should have a full understanding of and respect for the basic values of Chinese society and show some sincerity.  Frankly speaking, Starbucks is far from doing enough in this regard. It stated that there was no "driving away the police" or "filing a complaint against police." It apologized for a "misunderstanding" caused by "inappropriate words," but this apology looks more like a "situation clarification." Perhaps Starbucks did not intend to intensify the controversy, but the way it clarified the facts was "foolhardy," without taking the feelings of the Chinese fully into account. And objectively speaking, it is not in a down-to-earth manner. 

This is not the first time that Starbucks has suffered a PR crisis. Starbucks previously apologized to the public for events such as expired ingredients and not accepting coins, but the effect was not satisfactory and even added fuel to the fire. Starbucks should reflect on why this happens repeatedly. The controversy caused by its driving away the police should become a PR lesson for Starbucks.

Since entering the Chinese mainland in 1999, Starbucks has been one of the fastest-growing American companies, and the Chinese mainland has become its largest overseas market. In the context of increasingly tense China-US relations in recent years, Starbucks has generally maintained a low-key and pragmatic attitude, and China has not set any operational obstacles for Starbucks. 

The dispute this time is more of a specific context due to various reasons, and the Chinese public is not targeting Starbucks' status as an "American company." The police involved have not expressed their dissatisfaction with the matter, and it is believed that further intensification of the conflict is not what the local police hope to see. We believe that the understanding of this controversy should be limited to the public level, and it should not be hyped.

Some Western media have seized on this opportunity and want to use it to smear China's business environment. This is something that some Western media have always been keen on, and it is pure fault-finding. The Chinese public has the right to express their opinions. While many netizens criticize Starbucks, others think that it should not be overly interpreted. Some Western media are trying to take advantage of this case, and we must be vigilant.