Channel 4 Awards Starbucks’s Trans-Positive Advert

Channel 4 conferred its Diversity in Advertising Award to the new Starbucks #whatsyourname advert. This was first aired on the channel on February 2nd, at 9.10pm. 

The advert shows as its main character, James, an individual identified by acquaintances as ‘Jemma’. However, through different close-up shots and his uneasy body language, we can see that he doesn’t identify with this name anymore. 

After entering a Starbucks café, he tells the barista his name and smiles when receiving the cup which carries the name James. 

The Award was created four years ago and this year the aim was to defy “the lack of representation and stereotyping of the LGBT+ community in advertising”. In fact, a research into the portrayal of diversity in advertising by Channel 4 concluded that transgender individuals aren’t often considered and, if they are, they have negative traits. 

The temporary Director of Sales at Channel 4, Matt Salmon, said in a statement that

“This ground-breaking advert from Starbucks is an incredibly worthy recipient of the award and we hope this campaign encourages other brands to improve LGBT+ representation in their advertising”. 

Starbucks also said, regarding the advert, that the company’s mission is to build a “Third Place” open to everyone and that their ritual of writing down names on their customers’ cups “is a symbol of [their] warm welcome”. 

The initiative behind the ad also pushed Starbucks to work with the UK charity Mermaids and raise for them over £100k of donations by selling the Mermaid Cookie at specific stores. The non-profit organisation provides support to the LGBT+ community and their families and its demand has grew over 600% during the last few years. 

The #whatsyourname campaign was created alongside the creative agency Iris and it depicts the positive real-life moments that LGBT+ individuals had at Starbucks cafes. In fact, the company has a long history of inclusion towards the community by creating, in 2007, the Starbuck Pride Alliance to back their LGBT allies. 

Moreover, since 2012, Starbucks health insurance plans for employees cover gender confirmation surgery and more recently top surgery, hair transplants or hormone treatment. Tate Buhrmester, whose transitioning story was shared on Starbucks’ website, said that the inclusive health care plan “makes trans people feel like they are people”. 

Buhrmester talked about how being labeled female at birth made it difficult to transition and feel confident of his new gender identity around his family and previous co-workers. Now he’s one of Starbucks transgender partners and he’s manager of one of their cafes in Texas. 

However, Starbucks’ support for the community hasn’t always gone unchallenged. In 2018, a former employee, Maddie Wade, sued the company for transgender discrimination after she told her manager she was planning to change gender and he mistreated her. 

That same year, accusations of racism tarnished the company’s reputation as in one of their Philadelphia stores two Black men were waiting to meet a friend and the manager called the police. Another similar experience was also reported by another Black customer in California who wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. After these incidents, Starbucks closed over 8,000 branches in the US for an afternoon and introduced “racial bias” training.