Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Starbucks VIA Giveaway (or How I Rationalize Being a Corporate Shill)


I am giving away four Starbucks VIA gift packs!

Four lucky winners will receive the handy-dandy tumbler pictured above along with six three-packs of Starbucks VIA Colombian and Italian blends. The mug is specially designed to hold six individual VIA packets, so you will, according to their website, "never be without great coffee again". Whatever. It's a package valued at $22.95!

How to enter and win:
Simple. Comment on this post and tell us all about your favorite coffee--where you get it, what kind of drink you like best, how it's made, what makes it so good, your individual coffee quirks...whatever.

After a week or so, I'll choose the four comments I like best and send out the Starbucks swag to the lucky winners.


Now, to address the larger issues and ramifications of such a shameless display of symbiotic mutual self-promotion.

I've referred briefly in the past to my policies about reviewing stuff that comes my way for free, from PR companies, event organizers, or whoever, but I haven't ever codified an actual policy. Maybe now's a good time.

Basically, my driving guideline is that the credibility of this blog means far more to me than a free book, dinner, or pound of coffee, so I err on the side of caution. For example, I will always indicate when products or services came my way for free when reviewing them, and I always tell people offering freebies that my acceptance of the goodies in no way guarantees a positive review.

That said, I try and keep this blog relatively positive, so unless something is just egregiously bad, or I'm in the mood to rant, I would probably be more likely to simply not write the piece. This is my general tendency whether I've paid full price or not.

This wasn't much of an issue at first, but as this site has gained traction and generated more traffic, I've started getting frequent unsolicited emails from folks who would like to see their products (or the products of their clients) featured.

It all seemed fairly small-time and manageable until a PR guy representing the supposed evil empire known as Starbucks Coffee came knocking at my Gmail address . All of a sudden, entertaining the option of taking a mug and some free coffee made me feel like I was on the brink of becoming a complete corporate sell-out whore. What would be next, I figured--crowning some corporate PapaDomino'sHut pizza franchise the new Barnaby's? Hell, no!

But, crazy coincidence; I got some free samples of VIA from a Starbucks a few months ago when they first came out. They sat in a drawer until a couple weeks ago, when I brought them with on the camping trip I took with Henry, and at 6:45 in the morning, after sleeping fitfully through a night of thunderstorms and then escorting a four-year old through the mud to utilize a horsefly-plagued outhouse, this new "gourmet" instant coffee seemed like an acceptable option.

I drink iced coffee when it's warm out, so I just mixed two VIA packets with about 8 oz. of cold milk, some ice cubes, and a Sweet-n-Low.

The verdict? It was damn good. In fact, under the circumstances, it was fantastic.

I mean, it's not espresso good. Not anything like the nectar I generate with my Rancilio Silvia and the Adam's Blend I get from Casteel. Nor was it as good as an iced latte at Starbucks (which I find fine; acceptable in a pinch, if overpriced).

But for something I can make on the go--on a road trip, or camping, or as an alternative to the garbage that sits outside hotel-room bathrooms--it's pretty damn good. I can definitely see situations where this would be a welcome alternative to driving around hoping to find a place to get a decent cup of coffee, when I'm not willing to drop down to a gas station or Dunkin' Donuts level-brew.

Not a ringing endorsement by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly something that makes sense in certain situations.

This is the conclusion I'd already reached when the PR company goons tried to strongarm their way into my inbox, with their fiendishly courteous emails proffering their tantalizing freebies.

So, I figured....why not?

Bottom line; I'm going to take free stuff and go to free dinners and events sometimes, but I will always disclose when whatever I'm reviewing was a freebie, and I will always inform the party offering the freebies that there's no guarantee of a favorable review.

I'll try not to let if effect my opinion of the product, service, or event being reviewed, but whatever...I'm human. Sometimes, despite my attempts to approach the review from the perspective of someone who paid full price, I'll probably be unduly influenced by the tiny "thrill" that getting free stuff brings. The flip side of this of course, is that, depending on how the exchange is handled (sometimes people can be really crass and pushy about this kind of stuff), it might have a negative impact on my opinion of whatever's being reviewed.

That's that. I'm human, this is a blog, not Journalism, and, in the great scheme of things, you'll still probably see far more PR-agency-generated material in your daily newspaper or evening news than you'll see here.

See? You can trust me. I am not a corporate shill.


Tim said...

You sold out, man. I thought you were cool.

Carolyn said...

Is it still a shill if you were to give it a bad review? It may need it's own word. Like shneg? For Negative Shill.

Hank said...

You're a fucking self-delusional whore!

PS Me and the other haters are just jealous that no one gives us free stuff.

PPS I miss you.

PPPS The best coffee I ever had was from Torrefazione (sp?). It was a Seattle chain (I think? Maybe?). I first had it in the funky Belmont neighborhood on a trip to Seattle where they had a great sidewalk patio. Then when I moved to Portland I found a Torrefazione on NW 23rd Ave and I used to go there at will. They made an amazing mocha with a great chocolate flavor which was UNSWEETENED, so you could sweeten it if you wanted, including with Splenda or whatever. It was very good and popular so of course it was purchased by Starbucks and summarily dismantled, dismembered with a chainsaw, and run through a wood-chipper. The shop on NW 23rd is now a funky gelato shop with entertaining homeless people and a spatula attached to the bathroom key. Starbucks mochas are pre-sweetened with what tastes like Hershey's syrup but at least they're consistent (sort of). So there you go.

E L said...

Ah. It's good to have fans!

Hank, I miss you too. We should figure out a way to drink bourbon together again sometime soon.

(Tim, we will drink bourbon together in two days.)

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