Starbucks may be back to its viral marketing again with a new but familiar campaign called “Jonathan’s Card.”

Jonathan's Card

So the story goes, mobile payment application developer Jonathan Stark wanted to create a “social experiment,” and decided to post an image of his Starbucks payment card online for others to use at no cost.

So began Jonathan’s Card

The concept is similar to the Starbucks pay-it-forward cheer chains that the company has used in the past to distribute coupons plus an extra shot of commercially fabricated self-serving goodwill. There’s nothing more than a consumer loves than feeling good about getting free stuff!

The company later had its employees comment on my blog with fictitious postings of consumer support in favor of Starbucks, but unfortunately failed to anticipate that I can see the originating IP address of incoming comments, which in their case came from Starbucks HQ.

One can understand my skepticism when learning that a new, more technologically advanced unsolicited outpouring of love for Starbucks is now burning up tech blog sites on the Internet; it took me about 30 seconds using Google to raise more questions.

Mr. Stark is quoted on his website and many of the articles surrounding the promotion as saying:

For the record, Jonathan’s Card, Jonathan Stark (me), this site, or anything else I’ve ever said or done is totally not affiliated with Starbucks.

Unfortunately there’s one small wrinkle in that statement, his ‘day job’ employer apparently is totally affiliated with Starbucks. Mobiquity Inc. describes its services as “conceive[ing], execute[ing] and deliver[ing] impactful Mobile Computing solutions…” that, “capture real-time behavioral insights through analytics, profiling and modeling.” Its Vice President of Application Architecture?

Jonathan Stark at Mobiquity

…and who does Mobiquity provide its “behavioral modeling” programs for?

Starbucks Mobiquity

…but, I had to grab that image from a recent Google cache of its website, because for some reason, the company’s “client” page was recently taken offline. Here’s what you see today:

Mobiquity client page

Though far from the smoking gun that proves Starbucks is behind the promotion and paid Mobiquity and its employee Jonathan Stark to invent and deploy the campaign to dupe media and its readers into visiting a Starbucks, this should be valid cause for any serious journalist to spend at least a minute out of his or her day researching the story before declaring it fact rather than paid advertisement.

Unfortunately in the world of electronic communication, no one seems to care anymore what is real and what some company is being paid to make the consumer masses believe and feel.

UPDATE AUGUST 9, 2011 7:30AM HST: The Mobiquity Inc “Client” page cache has been deleted from Google; clearly someone is following this post and cleaning up loose ends on the Jonathan’s Card scheme to make it appear more organic.

UPDATE AUGUST 14, 2011 7:30AM HST: Starbucks has announced that they will be shutting down Jonathan’s Card, effectively ending the experiment / promotion. What’s next for Mr. Stark? A new humanitarian giving project valid only at participating McDonald’s?