Starbucks may be awful at traditional advertising but the company seems to be just ingenious at tricky guerilla marketing campaigns. Witness its big election-day coffee giveaway: It was a massive PR victory for the company. Starbucks spent maybe $350,000 on a single ad during Saturday Night Live, then kicked back and watched as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Newsweek etc. gave the promotion tons of free press. And the cost of the coffee? Oh that's the best part: It was practically free! Reports Ad Age:

John Moore, a former Starbucks marketer, estimated that between 12% and 15% of customers are drip-coffee drinkers, and that each of the company's 7,100 locations serves about 800 people a day. Those figures would set a conservative giveaway estimate at 568,000. Starbucks' cost per cup is about 30¢, according to several executives familiar with the matter, which would put the cost of the giveaway at about $170,000.

Of course that estimate doesn't account for the fact that the number of customers surged well above normal — long lines are common in giveaway situations — but it also doesn't take into account how some drip coffee drinkers ordered food, covering the cost of the brew. And even if Starbucks spent two or three times the estimated amount, it still was out less than $1 million.

Politicians take notice: You can attract and stir up buzz among urban voters on the cheap, so long as caffeine is involved. There's a reason they're called "latte liberals."