May 20th, 2011

Starbucks signs Lady Gaga for social media promotion

USA Today

Starbucks on Thursday will unveil a very high-octane ingredient it plans to temporarily stir into its coffee shops: Lady Gaga.

The world’s biggest coffee shop chain and the woman who Forbes magazine on Wednesday named the world’s most powerful celebrity, will announce that they are joining for a PR lovefest that will make Lady Gaga an over-the-top digital and promotional presence in Starbucks U.S. stores through June 3.

For Starbucks (SBUX), it’s about trying to stay totally tuned in to the interests of its young but hard-to-reach demographic. For Lady Gaga, it’s about reams of carefully orchestrated publicity in the one place where gobs of her fans likely hang out.

Lady Gaga has 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers, and earned about $90 million over the past year, Forbes estimates. Gaga also announced last week a PR link-up with FarmVille, the social network game.

“Teaming up with Starbucks means she’s the ultimate sell-out,” says Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University. “But that’s no longer an insult. To be part of what everyone is consuming is a rarity that only happens at the Super Bowl.”

Beginning Thursday, Starbucks will host a Gaga-infused scavenger hunt across its digital properties from Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare. Gaga fanatics can follow her exploits and search out clues. There are gaggles of prizes, but the top winner gets special access to a Lady Gaga concert during her 2012 world tour.

The move is timed to pump up the May 23 release of Lady Gaga’s new CD, Born This Way. On that day, Starbucks customers in the U.S. will be able to stream Gaga’s new album, download her new song Edge of Glory and watch an exclusive video from the in-store Starbucks Digital Network.

Unlike Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift, who Starbucks has linked to in the past, there’s brand risk in cozying up to the always-provocative Gaga.

“Born This Way is a worldwide cultural event,” says Annie Young-Scrivner, chief marketing officer at Starbucks. “Starbucks is excited to be one of the iconic partners to celebrate the album’s release in an innovative way.”

Starbucks would not discuss terms of the deal.

Too much exposure, perhaps, for an already highly exposed Lady Gaga?

“In this buzz-per-minute culture, there is no such thing as too much PR,” says PR guru Katie Paine. One thing that could come of this, she snickers, “Lady Starbucks.”

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