Real stories, real magic: Starbucks partners featured in holiday ad campaign

Kayla Stockert was at a New York Starbucks where she’s a barista when she found out someone from the company’s headquarters was trying to reach her.

“At first I was scared; I thought I was in trouble somehow,” she said. “But then they told me what they wanted, and I was so shocked and happy.”

What Starbucks wanted was to feature Stockert – and the music she’s been writing and performing since she was a child -- in Starbucks new holiday spots, which debut this week.

“It was probably the best news I’ve ever received,” she said.

The company flew Stockert, along with her brothers Matt and Brandon, musicians who perform with her and are also Starbucks partners in a New York store, to California last month to film and record the spot for Peppermint Mocha.

While Starbucks ads always feature actual partners as baristas, the spots in the new holiday campaign go several steps further by including partners and their families in their lives outside the stores.

“It was a chance for us to lean into our brand values and who we are by showing real moments of connection. We are at our best when we come together,” said Tiffany Spatafore, director of global advertising and brand communications for Starbucks.

In the spot for Peppermint Mocha, which features a woman picking up holiday beverages and walking through the snow to bring to them to friends at a party, viewers will see the Stockert siblings performing music on a balcony. Below them, on the street, they’ll see Cyndee Vanderford, another Starbucks partner, walking alongside her son, Matthew, who she adopted at age 4 from Uganda, with the support of Starbucks U.S. Adoption Assistance Program. They’ll also hear music specially written by Kayla Stockert that scores the spot.

A second ad, also debuting this week, for Caramel Brulée Latte, tells the story of a man on his way to meet a loved one getting off a train. On his way, he passes James S. Johnson, Jr., a Navy veteran and former Starbucks partner, who is seen greeting his wife, Esther Ortega-Johnson, also a partner, and Maria Campos and her daughter, Isamar Campos, both hired by Starbucks at 100,000 Opportunities job fair in Los Angeles last year.

Ricky Palomo and Caitlyn Hadan, both Starbucks partners in Los Angeles, appear in the spots as real-life baristas serving drinks.

“We found such great richness,” in focusing on partners and their real relationships, said Spatafore. “Those moments weren’t scripted,” she said. “They are authentic.”

Sue Dietrich, group marketing manager for Starbucks, was on set when the spots were filmed and saw the joy of the partners simply being together and with those they loved. In the Caramel Brulée Latte spot, she watched Maria Campos embrace her daughter’s pregnant belly and saw the delight in the two of them being together.

Moments like that are a reminder, she said, to take time and celebrate the small things and “look for the magic around you – whether it’s acts of human compassion, or snow falling or a dog wearing reindeer antlers.”

For Kayla Stockert, the musician, the magic was in going with her family to Los Angeles and being together to film the spot. “It’s the best trip I’ve ever had,” she said. She and her siblings all have a “very, very close relationship,” she said. “We would do anything for each other. They are my best friends.”

Music has been a part of her life, and her family, as long as she can remember, she said. Her father is also a musician and she began performing with him when she was 8.  By age 13, she was writing songs and auditioning for “The X-Factor.” One day her brother, Brandon, started playing guitar and the two of them began playing together. Brother Matt joined to play bass.

Music is the prism that helps her make sense of the world, she said. “No matter what emotions I’m going through, I always play music. I have a songbook where I write songs and ideas that track my whole life.”

When she was asked to write a song for the Peppermint Mocha spot, she went out and got one to get inspired.  “My goal was to make it uplifting and exciting,” she said.

She wrote a song called “The Brighter Side” about embracing the small moments of joy when you can find them.  “It’s the simple things in life that we have to cherish,” she said.

Spatafore said that’s more important now than ever. The magic of the holidays is people coming together, a time when differences can soften.  “It’s a season of togetherness, joy, wonder and hope.”