Why Starbucks Is Launching A Web Series

Starbucks Upstanders cups sleeve photographed on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Starbucks Upstanders cups sleeve photographed on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Photo by Joshua Trujillo — Starbucks

Starbucks is debuting an original web series with a promise to deliver positive stories about ordinary Americans, a vision backed by CEO Howard Schultz, who continues to lament “the hate that’s gone back-and-forth in this political season.”

The new series called “Upstanders,” the first original content produced by Starbucks (SBUX), includes 10 episodes that focus on topics including homelessness, college tuition, hunger, and building homes for poor families. The series, Starbucks promises, tells “real stories of humanity…as a reminder that ordinary citizens can create extraordinary impact by refusing to be bystanders.”

“This is a gift because people will feel better about the American story and be reminded that the promise of America is alive and well in your own neighborhood,” Schultz told Fortune in an interview.

The coffee giant is making a big push to broaden the distribution of “Upstanders” as much as possible. Beyond the video episodes, which can be viewed on Starbucks.com/Upstanders, there are also written essays and audio versions of each story that will launch through a weekly podcast. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former Washington Post editor who co-produced and co-wrote the series with Schultz, said the series would also be distributed through the popular Starbucks mobile app—which has been downloaded by 20 million Americans.

Unlike other content series produced by big consumer brands, Starbucks says this series isn’t about selling more coffee. “I don’t think there is one physical evidence of a Starbucks cup or logo in the stories,” Schultz said. “We wanted it to be authentic and the stories needed to be about the people and not about our company and marketing Starbucks.”

Instead, Schultz had other goals in mind. He says he wants to show U.S. consumers that despite claims by politicians and the media that the nation has a lot of problems, there are also “millions of Americans who are waking up every day and performing acts of kindness.”

Schultz has always been an executive with a broader vision beyond building one of the most dominant consumer brands in the U.S. In an interview with Fortune, he pointed to past statements he has made in recent annual meeting presentations regarding the role and responsibility of a public company. It isn’t just about profits, he claims; corporations also need to have a social impact. Earlier this year, he proposed a broader argument: All U.S. citizens must reclaim the American dream with optimism, unity, inclusion, and compassion.

The broader themes that Schultz touches have historically generated headlines. In 2013, when questioned about his backing of gay marriage by a disgruntled shareholder, he told the investor they could take their business elsewhere if they weren’t happy with Starbucks’ performance. Last year, he called for Starbucks to lead a conversation on race—and initiative that faced some criticism.

To his credit, Schultz’s grand vision isn’t always about words. He told Fortune that one of the initiatives his most proud of is the chain’s move to expand into lower-income communities. Specifically, he said the recent opening of a store in Ferguson, Mo., spoke “so much about the value of our company.”

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