Starbucks free coffee offer: Message to lawmakers about government shutdown one coffee at a time

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants lawmakers to come together to resolve their political gridlock. And he's giving away free coffee to customers who set an example how to do it.

From Wednesday to Friday, the coffee chain is offering a free tall brewed coffee to any customer in the U.S. who buys another person a beverage at Starbucks.

The offer is a way to help fellow citizens "support and connect with one another, even as we wait for our elected officials to do the same for our country," Schultz said in a memo to staff on Tuesday.

Schultz wrote that he wants to do something about Americans' uncertainty over the federal government shutdown, the pending debt and default crisis and waning consumer confidence.

"In times like these, a small act of generosity and civility can make a big difference," says an ad being published in The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today on Wednesday. "Let's see what can happen. (hash)payitforward."

It's not the first time Schultz has waded into the national political debate. In 2011, he asked other chief executives to join him in halting campaign contributions until politicians stopped their partisan bickering. The CEOs of more than 100 companies, from AOL to Zipcar, took the pledge.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group, said the latest campaign won't likely have much political effect because it lacks the kind of punishment that makes lawmakers think twice, like an impeachment drive.

But it makes for great marketing, especially since many people, especially younger ones, care about brands that have a strong social conscience, Cohen said.

"Will it work on the political level? No. Won't make a dent. Will it work on the commercial end? Absolutely," he said.

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