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Is Savvy Marketing the Missing Link in Starbucks' 'Cheer Chains'?

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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RUNNIN' CHAIN? Britney

If you've visited a Starbucks in the past week, you'd half-expect your overpriced beverage of choice to be served to you by cuddly puppy dogs and fairies and unicorns.

At a store in Hempfield, Pennsylvania, a woman, described only as the "type of person that, when you ask her how she is ... she'll say, 'I'm dancing above marvelous,' or 'I'm flirting with fantastic,'" supposedly bought a cup of coffee for a fellow customer without being prompted to do so, starting a two-hour "cheer chain" of benevolence in which customers repeatedly picked up the tab for the car behind them in the drive-thru line. In Miami, Florida, it was reported that a Tai Chi master responded to a man yelling at him "with a bit of Zen" by purchasing his coffee for him, starting a chain that lasted all day long. A similar story, this one out of Riverdale, California, is now emblazoned on some of Starbucks' ubiquitous red holiday cups.

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But is this really random kindness or the wily manipulations of the Starbucks' PR team?

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