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Originally published Thursday, November 9, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Starbucks version of holiday ads start

Ready or not, Starbucks will begin spreading holiday cheer today with Christmas décor, holiday coffee drinks and freebies galore. The world's largest coffee-shop...

Seattle Times business reporter

Ready or not, Starbucks will begin spreading holiday cheer today with Christmas décor, holiday coffee drinks and freebies galore.

The world's largest coffee-shop chain will hand out subway passes to people in New York and spring for free cab rides in Boston and San Francisco.

It will buy people spins around the holiday carousel at Seattle Center and buy out entire theaters for plays, so that anyone going to buy a ticket will be told that Starbucks has it covered.

In Portland, Denver and Washington, D.C., Starbucks will launch its third annual round of "coffee on cars," in which cab drivers and others drive around with a Starbucks coffee cup on their car roofs until someone stops to tell them. The Good Samaritan gets a free cuppa.

Holiday gifts

These random acts of generosity are the sort of thing the Seattle-based company does instead of spending a lot on advertising.

Executives will not disclose how much all the good cheer costs.

"If you make an emotional connection with them, you've captured their heart. That's what creates brand loyalty," said Brad Stevens, Starbucks' top marketing executive.

This holiday season, Starbucks has created a formal way for customers to pass along the goodwill and even track it online.

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"Cheer passes"

It plans to hand out half-a-million "cheer passes," little cards with unique numbers that can be followed at www.itsredagain.com. The idea is to give the card to someone for whom you're also doing a good deed. That means if you buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line, you also give her the cheer pass.

If everyone goes online to track how they gave and received each card, there will be strings of good deeds to look back on.

Starbucks launches its holiday celebration now because "this is about the time customers start asking for our annual holiday offerings," Stevens said.

They want eggnog and gingerbread lattes, peppermint mochas and Christmas blend coffee beans.

Something they don't want — and which Starbucks will hold until after Thanksgiving — are the holiday tunes.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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