This year we’ve made a point of avoiding self-indulgent Starbucks posts. For one, there’s a lot more to say about the future of good espresso than there is to rehash about its past — and Starbucks clearly represents its past. (Starbucks hasn’t been relevant to good espresso for almost a decade.) For another, Starbucks gets far too much press and attention as it is, and we’d rather not flatter their navel-gazing PR staff any further.

However, there are occasional stories that rise above the ordinary Starbucks tedium and, after several days of droning, we just have to chime in. This time it’s Starbucks’ “Pass the Cheer” national ad campaign — and their accompanying hired play actors who help execute on the plan: Starbucks Pay-it-forward-gate.

The short of it is that gullible, underpaid newspaper reporters have recently picked up on “phenomena” at various Starbucks: random acts of double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato kindness, with one customer buying for the other and passing it along the chain. Cynics have suspected some underhand corporate manipulation all along, and now the evidence is starting to spill out that Starbucks has opted for Viral Marketing 101 tactics in the hopes of re-inflating their flaccid stock price.

Given recent concerns over Starbucks’ nasty case of stock price ED, I half-wondered if their viral marketers really should have instead considered passing along shares of Starbucks common stock. Clearly, no one wants to buy them. However, Starbucks’ could get into serious hot gingerbread latte with the SEC over such a practice. So it looks like Starbucks’ only legal pyramid scheme recourse had to be of the good will/press coverage variety. But a big Christmas good cheer to Starbucks’ marketing department for hoping that the legal kind will help pass along the chain to become the illegal kind.

Pass the Cheer? I'll pass, alright...cheerfully on my way to another café with better coffee.