One Man’s Innovative “Social Payment” Experiment is Totally Unaffiliated with Starbucks

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So far this week has been a doozy: Standard’s & Poor’s downgraded the US from AAA to AA+, every stock in the S&P 500 closed Monday in the red (first time in 15 years, nbd) and since the Smurfs rang the opening bell at the NYSE on July 29th, the Dow has lost over 1,000 points. Those sneaky, anarchist blue midgets. Needless to say, economic woes are #trending again in full force, so anything with the word “free” piques my interest.

Late Monday night, after hearing all day about how the economy was doomed and the dollar was going to be nonexistent blah blah blah (so I hyperbolize a little), I was thumbing through Twitter when I came across a TechCrunch Tweet, which immediately caught my attention: I Am Jonathan’s Starbucks Card: A Social Payment Experiment (With Free Coffee).

My internal thought process as I read that headline: I Am Jonathan’s Starbucks Card (weird Fight Club reference, Mr. Arrington… ): A Social Payment Experiment (huh. Wonder what the heck that means) (With Free Coffee). (Free. Coffee. I’m in). I clicked on the article to read through what Jonathan’s Starbuck’s Card was all about and how I could get me some free coffee.

In short, this guy, Jonathan Stark, got a Starbucks gift card and decided to let everyone in the world use it for their caffeine addictions. Through Starbucks’ mobile app, customers can load their gift cards into the app, creating a digital copy of the barcode so people can scan their mobile phones’ screens in lieu of a physical card. Stark took a screen shot of his digital Starbucks card on his iPhone and posted it to a website, which he has made public: http://jonathanstark.com/card/

The idea is that people will save that screenshot to their iPhones and use his card when ordering their coffee. He loaded about $200 on the card and set up a portal to the Starbucks refilling site where people can add more money to the card. This is where the “social experiment” element comes into play: users can check the balance of the card by following the Twitter handle he set up for this experiment. @jonathanscard is updated whenever the card balance changes with the remaining amount of money on the card. He’s also left the API open on the card so other developers can come in and build graphing apps on top of the data stream.

I was sold.

Tuesday I arose with a little more pep in my step knowing that a free iced coffee had my name on it. Unfortunately about 8,000 other new Twitter followers also had my same though process. I sat in the Starbucks on 23rd and Park for about 20 minutes constantly refreshing my Twitter feed to see the balance. $10 and then one second later “Bummer! I’m empty….” Tweet would fill the screen. Eventually I became frustrated and decided that later in the day would be better after the morning rush. And I was right. At around 3 PM, when I usually get the afternoon snoozies, I hopped over to Starbucks and got a small (err tall? Grandisimo?) iced coffee and scanned the barcode and for a good deed added $5 to the card. Pay it forward, ya know?

One of Stark’s requests was to tweet a picture of your drink, location or receipt and share for the whole world to see. I complied and shared a nice little shot of my empty cup (I forgot until after I drank it all).

It was great, it was a social phenomenon yadda yadda yadda and that was my going to be the gist of my post here on this ‘lil blog. “What a grand social world we get to live in folks, amirite?! I feel so good about myself blah blah blah”

That was until I came across a Tweet that linked me to a blog called Coffee Strategies.

Andrew Hetzel wrote a post for his blog titled Starbucks and the ‘Starkbucks’ Jonathan’s Card Viral Marketing Campaign, which lays out how he found a quick and strong connection between this “social experiment” and Starbucks.

Hetzel first points out that on the Jonathan’s Card site that Jonathan Stark explicitly states “For the record, Jonathan’s Card, Jonathan Stark (me), this site, or anything else I’ve ever said or done is totally not affiliated with Starbucks.”

Hetzel goes on to tell how his investigation took him to find that his “day job” employer is totally affiliated with Starbucks. Stark’s employer, Mobiquity Inc. which provides services for to “conceive, execute and deliver impactful Mobile Computing solutions…” that, “capture real-time behavioral insights through analytics, profiling and modeling.”

Turns out Stark happens to be Vice President of Application Architecture. Alright….

Let’s check out Mobiquity’s client roster: Telstra, Starbucks, Shell, SAP… wait, STARBUCKS?

Hetzel managed to grab a screenshot of the clients page (above), but don’t try to check it out now. The company’s client page was recently taken down and all you see today is a good ole “Error 404 – Page not found.”

So there ya have it. A pretty strong link between Starbucks and this crazy innovative “social payment experiment.” I was duped as were thousands of others including the likes of The LA Times, CNN, Huffington Post, TIME, the list goes on.

Stark responded Wednesday to these accusations on Facebook and claimed: “The Jonathan’s Card experiment was completely my idea, Starbucks had absolutely nothing to do with it, and until recently, I was scared to death that Starbucks might sue the crap out of me.”

Right.

Stark also told the LA Times the card/his “experiment (read: Starbucks marketing ploy) is “literally giving people hope.” Literally.

Uhuh.

Ok, so I was duped. While this “experiment” is still a really cool idea and was executed very nicely, it’s a whole lot less cool now that I know how intimately Stark is tied to Starbucks. Instead of feeling like I participated in some guerilla, anarchistic payment scheme, I was really just tricked into giving Starbucks $5. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for really cool viral marketing campaigns. However, those are usually pretty ethical with clients, sponsors and all parties involved state their involvement openly. Because, you know, companies should be ethical and all. That’s the thing that I’m most irked about is how sleazy this is and how I was completely taken with it.

So, friends, in summation: since the Smurfs rang the opening bell of the NYSE on July 29th, the economy tanked, the US was downgraded and I was duped into a participating in a social experiment and spending 5 bucks at Starbucks to “literally give people hope.” Those sneaky blue midgets. I guess they had help in the me getting duped part, so… those sneaky blue midgets and that sneaky little mermaid.