Gloria Jeans – a twitter storm in a coffee cup?

Gloria Jeans – a twitter storm in a coffee cup?

This story of Gloria Jeans (a chain of coffee shops) and how badly things can go on social media.  Days after these events, the senior executive in charge of the company’s marketing and media was “let go” in a corporate “restructure”, but you can read all about Gareth Pike’s unceremonious departure on this post.

Gloria Jeans Coffee Houses had declared July to be “With Heart” month: the idea is that each Gloria Jeans store makes a donation to a charity in it’s local area and the company publicises these donations to get positive PR around their brand.

Thankful for the financial support, charities like Variety Australia have suggested that its supporters should buy a coffee in tweets like this:

When marketers realised that people subconsciously prefer buy products they identify with a whole new era of marketing began.  Instead of talking about the properties of their products, modern brands try to draw a subconscious link between how you would like to see yourself and what they’re selling.

They do this on the premise that a consumer will favour brand A over brand B because they believe that brand A is like them.  And, who doesn’t want to believe that they’re good-hearted, community minded individual?  In this world it makes sense for a chain of coffee shops to support local, worthy causes because their customers can feel as if they’re connected to their local community.  People tend to follow local charities on social media for this very reason.

On the surface it seems like a good deal: the charity gets much-needed cash, the company gets advertising, the consumer gets coffee and everyone is happy.  So why is this a social-media train-wreck?

Gloria Jeans’ campaign has been “tagjacked”, instead of being full of local charity stories and people saying how they’ve just bought coffee to support their preferred causes, many Twitter users are using it to talk about a boycott of Gloria Jeans.  The #WithHeartLocal tag has filled up with angry tweets, like:

People are even commented on empty Gloria Jeans shopfronts:

Last month it became very public in social media that Gloria Jeans and its owners have been among the largest financial contributors to many anti-gay organisations, including Australian Christian Lobby, Family First, Hillsong Church, Mercy Ministries and organisations that sell faith-based ‘gay cures’.  The company even apologised on its Facebook page for any offense these donations may have caused.

In spite of the apology, the company’s sizable donations to such organisations aren’t compatible with the self-image of many of the tweeps who were buying their product.  They’re called ‘latte-sipping lefties’ for a reason: while their beverage is usually elaborate, caffeinated and overpriced, their politics is socially progressive.  And, perhaps most importantly for Gloria Jeans, their preferred purveyor of coffee will be the one that they believe is most like them.  All the angry tweets show that the marketing team have failed to make that connection.

Some might argue that this boycott is hurting small businesses, after all many Gloria Jeans are individual franchises.  That’s the problem with buying into a franchise, not only do you get the good bits like brand recognition, support, advertising and buying power, but you also buy the baggage.

That’s why the #withheartlocal tag is full of Tweets expressing outrage at cooping local causes for PR aims:

 I can’t imagine anyone in the Gloria Jeans PR team is at all happy with the tweets coming through on #withheartlocal, but many of them are rip-snorters, including my personal favourite so far:

Gloria Jeans has a simple choice to make – it can either further embrace the values that made it donate to Australian Christian Lobby, (thereby alienating 67% of Australian voters who support gay marriage), or it can dump the Australian Christian Lobby.  Just like the #qantasluxury mess, the Gloria Jeans #withheartlocal debacle reminds us that social media doesn’t forget transgressions the way old PR did – brands can’t just say that they are committed to something, people are watching how they behave.  It might be easier for Gloria Jeans is to become the official cup of the religious right than to meet their target of being “Australia’s most respected coffee chain”.


This is an extended version of an article originally published by The Punch at

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