Jonathan’s Card: a karma macchiato?

Cigar and coffee

It is a surreal experience to wake up and find one’s name on the front page of your customized Google News… particularly before making my morning espresso. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Thank you to all for reading my recent blog article on the matter of Mr. Stark and his Jonathan’s Card and for defending your positions on this site and many others with such passion. Though not illegal, viral marketing is a practice that many, including myself, find objectionable, unethical and counterproductive to good business.

It is inspiring to see so many people from around the globe engaged in intelligent, active debate and gives me hope that viral marketers of the future will face increasing scrutiny from the consuming public, particularly those alert members of the programming community.

Please keep up the good fight and always question who will benefit from the money you spend with one company in the name of goodwill or social experimentation. If in doubt, take that cash and give it to a reputable charity instead.

I also wish to thank Mr. Stark for posting a link to his Facebook response to my article:

Hi all,

It’s come to my attention that someone has made claims that the Jonathan’s Card project is a viral marketing campaign sponsored by Starbucks. I’ve also seen comments on Facebook and Twitter from people who have suggested that this is some sort of scam, or that I’m hoarding free coffee coupons, etc… These sorts of responses are a small minority of the feedback I’ve received so far, but I feel they need to be addressed.

Let me be 100% clear:

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. Furthermore, I’m not making any money from this project (quite the opposite, in fact) and I’m currently working out how to donate the hundreds of free coffee coupons that have been earned.

I am deeply hurt by accusations that I’ve been acting out of self-interest or on behalf of Starbucks, partly because it calls my integrity into question, but more importantly because it threatens to destroy the good feelings that have been built up by thousands of people who have participated in this wonderful experiment.

I’m not sure how I can convince skeptics that I’m on the level, but out of respect for everyone who has believed in and been touched by this project I feel obligated to open myself up to whatever scrutiny doubters would like to subject me to.

While doing so might be disruptive to my friends and family, I feel strongly that I owe it to believers everywhere to take a stand against cynics who are too jaded to believe that anyone would ever do something nice for others for the simple reason that it feels good.

Sorry for the rant… thanks for listening,
j

Since posting his response, both Starbucks and Mobiquity have also issued statements denying any collaboration on a viral project, the latter claiming that Starbucks’ logo had appeared on its website because an employee had formerly done business with that company while employed elsewhere… er, that’s weird, but okay.

This afternoon, Mobiquity further took the move of proudly declaring victory in their apparent battle against me (news to me) by adding a new headline to its website, “Hetzel got it wrong.”

Mobiquity

Really? Very professional. Apparently the biggest threat to this dot.com startup is an amateur non-techie coffee blogger who works from home. I weep for your investors.

The writer for a popular tech website declared that I should “apologize for being wrong.”

Wrong? Wrong for what, exactly? The questions raised in my prior post are valid and reasonable (i.e. is there some connection between Stark, who first presented himself an an independent programmer, Starbucks or Mobiquity, a company employing Stark that had Starbucks listed as a client until it was removed) — as are the healthy follow-up comments of others in the media.

No false accusations were made, only the suggestion that professionals should look at this string of unusual coincidences, including the similarity of Stark’s campaign to Starbucks’ known pay-it-forward cheer chains. We haven’t even explored other issues like what data is being collected from the experiment’s subjects and how it may be used?

Perhaps a dot.com startup lacking clientele would do the work for free just to build a portfolio? The specific language used in Starbucks’ response was carefully worded “no professional relationship…”

Quite frankly, despite the denial of all three parties, my position on the matter has not changed in the past 24 hours and I still find the circumstances bizarre: programmer selflessly develops experiment that inadvertently gives global behemoth brand millions of dollars worth of free publicity, drives customers to stores and patterns the behavior of using their new payment device, with no strings attached. Maybe it is all coincidence and Starbucks is (again) just a very lucky company: that’s for you to decide.

As I stated clearly in my original post, this circumstantial evidence is “far from a smoking gun,” that proves this is a campaign being conducted at the direction of Starbucks; however, I’m glad that my questions raised have received such widespread attention and shed more scrutiny on all of the self-congratulatory karma macchiato euphoria.

Blogging is not what I do for a living and someone better equipped really should take it from here. Hopefully professionals in the media and perhaps other amateur writers like me (ones with more spare time), will continue to follow-up on brand-highlighting viral events like this one and others to find the whole, unedited and complete truth.

Sometimes a “cigar is just a cigar,” but only time will tell.

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