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logo no-no

Starbucks New Logo a Mid-Life Crisis in the Making

Posted by Abe Sauer on January 5, 2011 03:30 PM

Another iconic brand is messing with its logo. To commemorate its 40th anniversary, Starbucks today unveiled what its PR team calls a "subtle but meaningful update." We'd call it a hot mess.

Meaningful? Only to Starbucks. Subtle? Not at all. In fact, the focus on the brand's mermaid and scuttling of its name jettisons the distinctive black and green color combination that nearly everyone associates with Starbucks.

AP notes, "Prior versions of the logo helped build Starbucks into one of the world's best recognized brands, and the company felt it no longer needed to reinforce its name at every turn. The new wordless logo also is better suited to the company's expansion beyond coffee into a wider array of business lines and into more international markets."

Here is the official Starbucks statement on the new mermaid-heavy logo:

"Our new evolution liberates the Siren from the outer ring, making her the true, welcoming face of Starbucks. For people all over the globe, she is a signal of the world’s finest coffee — and much more. She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other. And as always, she is urging all of us forward to the next thing. After all, who can resist her?"

One of the most notable aspects of Starbucks brand, the combination of the green and black, has been abandoned for some mumbo jumbo about "sharing our stories?" That, by the way, is a reference to the coffee slinger's recent "Share Our Stories" campaign, which has wrought heartwarming but meaningless (from a brand perspective) efforts such as this:

There is no more evidence of how important this green and black combo was to the Starbucks brand than the knock-offs found worldwide that almost always "imitate" the brand by combining some manner of circle logo with black and green. Even activists see the black and green as a central part of the brand, making sure to include it in anti-Starbucks efforts:

With the black so central to its visual identity, what could possibly be the reasoning for losing a key brand element that took Starbucks two decades to establish? Why abandon two dimensions of color and hard-won brand equity, unless it's subtly trying to establish itself (literally) as a green brand?

Of course, people's first reaction tends to be in favor of the familiar and trusted. As AP notes, this is "the fourth version of Starbucks' logo since the company's beginnings as a small coffee, tea and spice shop in Seattle in 1971. The first update came in 1987, taking the original bare-breasted siren in brown to a more stylized — and modest — version in green as the company began to expand. The image was further refined in the 1990s as the company went public and its growth soared."

Now, in addition to simplifying its mark and putting a new face forward, the brand is shedding some weight. It's getting rid of the chunky mugs and introducing bone china (according to the Guardian) when it starts rolling out its new image with its birthday in March, a move to get more sophisticated that was foreshadowed late last year.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, aware of the perils of changing one of the world's most-recognized logos, told AP the brand "looked to companies like Nike Inc. and Apple Inc., which had earned the clout with consumers to drop the words from their logos. And it closely watched the missteps of others, such as Gap Inc., which launched a new logo in October only to withdraw it after harsh criticism by customers and others."

AP adds: "Starbucks sees other changes ahead under its new banner: it's testing a system for customers to order and pay for coffee by mobile phone. It's seeking a way for rewards card holders to earn points buying Starbucks products at grocers or other stores. And it's considering offering beer and wine at night in some of its cafes. Starbucks also suggested it is looking at new food business opportunities, though company officials would not disclose details."

Starbucks was clearly prepared for some explaining to customers. Schultz outlines the corporate rationale for the logo change in a blog post and the video above, while a "brand evolution" customer FAQ and separate blog post talk up the history and meaning of the siren to the brand.

Comments on Schultz's blog post and the brand's Facebook feedback are mostly skewed in favor of the current logo, but we want to hear what you think: is the new logo a black eye, or a smart makeover as it turns 40?


Elliott Krejci United States says:

I'll be the first to say it: It not as bad as the gap debacle! I will miss the black and green. My first reaction was disgust, but that is because it is new. When I put next to the old logos I can see the thought behind the progression. The more I look at it the more it grows on me, more attracted I am to it, but then it is a siren! I predict that they will not retract it or submit an apology, or pretend it was a stunt.

January 5, 2011 04:19 PM #

A Sauer United States says:

Yeah, this is clearly not a disaster and it successfully retains some of the elements of the old brand. But it assumed A LOT by dropping the name completely in favor of just the mermaid (does everyone know there's a mermaid there) AND the dropping of the black just seems inexcusable.

January 5, 2011 04:37 PM #

Elliott Krejci United States says:

Good point on the mermaid. I will admit I remember a time I had know idea there was a mermaid. "inexcusable" seem extreme. In my opinion they can still be true to brand by introducing black with supporting elements or type.

January 5, 2011 05:21 PM #

Alina Wheeler United States says:

I think it's terrific that Starbucks has set the siren free. It has become an identifiable global brand. Like Target, Apple, and Nike, it will not need type to be recognizable. It sounds like Starbucks has done their homework and is being strategic. Revitalizing is good and healthy if done well. Kudos.

January 5, 2011 04:36 PM #

Baxter United States says:

DANG! Just made these:


January 5, 2011 04:40 PM #

A Sauer United States says:


January 5, 2011 05:16 PM #

Peter Feld United States says:

BOOM, roasted.

January 5, 2011 05:02 PM #

Beau Bo United States says:

I think they should have just removed the name and kept the circle / black. I guess they wanted to be more like target, but someone should tell them that the company's name has nothing to do with a mermaid--as far as the public is concerned.

January 5, 2011 05:31 PM #

Chris United States says:

When I walk by a starbucks, the last thing I want to see is that new logo. The current logo design calls out to me and I identify with that brand. It's bold design symbolizes what I believe to be coffee and the experience thereof. If I see this new logo prominently displayed, I will most likely bypass the coffeehouse and choose a brand that has a bold, attractive, fresh, and elegant design. The current bold logo with the name is a beacon among the endless logos, guiding me to it's coffeehouse among the numerous stores around it's vicinity. When I look at this new logo, I feel like I'm looking at a logo of an obscure candle store at a dying strip mall, timid and uninterested in my attention.

January 5, 2011 06:08 PM #

Kelly United States says:

Is it bad that I never even noticed the "siren" in the logo to begin with?

January 5, 2011 07:01 PM #

Michele United States says:

Exactly!  I don't think many consumers ever paid much attention to what was at the center of the round green and black logo.  That's where Starbuck's error lies -- it's actually the words in the circle with which we identify.  "Releasing the Siren" is releasing something new that resonates very little with most people.

My young children who cannot read could instantly recognize the Starbucks logo (perhaps too many visits??), but they have no idea what this is.

January 6, 2011 09:37 AM #

Tag United States says:

I think I might need some coffee to wake me up from the bore of this logo..

January 5, 2011 07:06 PM #

Thomas Gilmore United States says:

I disagree. Ditching the name will carry this iconic brand across markets and into the future.


January 5, 2011 07:09 PM #

HR United States says:

AWFUL. Whoever thought this up is CLEARLY not a Pacific Northwest native and lifelong Starbucks supporter - of which I am both, and now will no longer even LOOK for products to buy with this new logo. It's ugly and completely plain and BORING...When they went to the automated brew machines and started opening up kiosks in the supermarkets and chain stores, THAT is when they started their slow decline into oblivian. I have not had ONE good espresso since both of those things happened. Total disregard for the actual product that got them noticed in the first place - THEIR COFFEE!!!!

January 6, 2011 12:17 AM #

Andy United States says:

I'd never noticed the siren before & now I don't want to.... why does she have two tails? Also, she's no Nike swoosh!

If the logo wasn't broken .... why fix it? Maybe Schultz got bored with it or his marketing folks felt it wasn't sophisticated enough, but it was much classier imho, and benefited from the Starbucks name and the border.

It sounds like this is motivated by a desire to get away from "coffee" as it grows its business ... so why not just drop that one word and keep the logo as is?

January 6, 2011 01:40 AM #

mpume ngobese South Africa says:

i agree. why dabble with the colour pallete. i also think that they should have just made a slight evolution of this logo by dropping the word 'coffee' and left all other elements in tact.

January 6, 2011 03:57 AM #

Gerson Lehrman Group United States says:

From a localization perspective, using words in logos generates branding issues that require several types of adaptation. These are not unsurmountable, but might be avoided by using only images.


January 6, 2011 02:26 AM #

Jesper Denmark says:

Cool and Courageous! But it will not work as planned, simply because:

The drawing of the Mermaid simply isn't distinct - or good - enough to stand alone.

On the distance it will just be a blurry non-outstanding green dot - nothing else.  

January 6, 2011 03:13 AM #

Chandrayee U.A.E. says:

Maybe large scale printing factors also contributed to their decision to replace the iconic black with white. Think about it, the number of prints that use the color black in terms of advertising, merchandise etc. on an annual basis, surely does come up to a huge amount. Could be a reason for long-term financial stability.

January 6, 2011 03:53 AM #

Bird United States says:

I don't think they should mess with the business model/formula or the logo. I used to go out of my way to buy their big, chunky mugs more than their coffees even. Now I won't buy anything there. Of course, I used to think McDonald's was fancy eating when I was 10.

January 6, 2011 04:02 AM #

Olsen Switzerland says:

I have to say that when I first saw the new logo on the paper cup, I immediately fell in love with it! It's really simple, and that's what I love about it. It's simple and clean.
I understand that people are angry and disappointed, but I guess that within the next few weeks/ months, they will start to get used to it.
I ask myself, if the new logo will also be used as store-signs...

January 6, 2011 06:09 AM #

Redfish United States says:

I think you just wanted an excuse to write an article. I see the new logo and I think Starbuck's.

January 6, 2011 08:11 AM #

Eli Chile says:

As with every change, the first reaction is aversion. But, after taking a look at it for the second time, I got the idea of the evolution intended. I guess dropping the name is not all that bad considering the technical difficulties of having a name in a logo and the future business extensions they might pursue, but they'll definitively need to invest a lot to get this "no name" logo recognized, especially outside the US. As some other colleagues posted, I have never noticed the siren before! It was more about the black and green seal.

January 6, 2011 08:49 AM #

Carl D United States says:

The logo probably works better internationally without the name and it is simpler to produce with only one color. Removing Coffee from the logo lets them expand into selling more items as well. However, I liked the name, stars and the color contrast in the old logo and wish they had kept that somehow.

January 6, 2011 09:27 AM #

CD United States says:

Think production of the marketing materials, napkins, cups, store signs, etc. They just cut their costs in half by cutting the colors to one.

January 6, 2011 10:39 AM #

val brown United States says:

They're definitely going  to go upmarket with brand extensions.  The brands they are trying to emulate - Apple, Nike, Target -- have very clear, simple (no name) imagery.  The siren is rather amorphous.  Matt Lauer had interesting comment on Today Show - "now it just looks like one of the rip-off brands....".  It's no border around the image that really irks me.

January 6, 2011 10:48 AM #

A B United States says:

Why oh why must brands always "rebrand".  What's wrong with having a nice, recognizable, and successful logo?  Isn't there something to be said for nostalgia?

January 6, 2011 11:33 AM #

Paul Valerio United States says:

Good points of view all around. No design change causes more angst than change itself, which is what appears to be happening here. Overall, this is a minor change, really. And for all the discussion about what the new logo has deleted, the net result is actually an increased emphasis on the siren/mermaid, which several commentators have mentioned never noticing in the first place. That's actually a closer tie to Starbucks' Seattle roots, and the Moby Dick source of the Starbucks name in the first place. I think the comparisons to Nike and Apple are apt ones; both capitalized on the strength and ubiquity of their brands to make their logos more of a brush-stroke reference to the brand itself, and in turn, streamlined their overall presentation. Remember that in addition to simplifying their logo, Apple also officially dropped the word "Computer" from their company name too. That reflected the greater range of products the brand needed to encompass. Now that there are Starbucks within other Starbucks (joke), they know they're going to need to mean much more than "coffee" in order to grow. The logo alone won't get them there, but this shows me they're thinking about it in the right way.

January 6, 2011 12:00 PM #

Victoria Miller United States says:

The progression is definitely in the right direction. I would have expected them to first eliminate the 'Coffee' as they further expanded their offerings. Bringing the siren and its meanings forward, as some barely noticed it inside the strong ring with the words, yes. But, worldwide, seeing a sign with just the mermaid at this point without the word Starbucks nearby? Not there yet.

I think they wanted to be more daring, and not put a black Starbucks under the mark, which would have been the expected next itteration. The vertical 'Starbucks' on the backside of the coffee cup feels a bit forced to me. I certainly hope they will have one adjacent on signage...

January 6, 2011 01:31 PM #

Megan United States says:

Seems like a clever trick to reduce printing costs - 1 color printing vs. 2 color printing.  I'm not particularly WOWED by it, but it's not as bad as the Gap debacle.  

January 6, 2011 12:28 PM #

Martina Argentina says:

I don't think it's THAT bad, I just don't feel the siren itself really represents the brand.
Also, I like the branches with the "Starbuck Coffee" legend on top.

Anyway, it's a change and I really think they needed one.

Do you know who designed it?

January 6, 2011 01:12 PM #

Stephen Rustad United States says:

I think that Starbucks is trying to distill the logo to its graphic essence or minimum. As mentioned by others, logos such as the Mercedes Benz star, Mickey Mouse three intersecting circles, Target's minimalist target, and the Nike swoosh show that dropping the company name may be the ultimate test of the logo's strength...as well as that of the brand. And, the new logo will make a great tattoo.

January 6, 2011 01:24 PM #

Victoria Miller United States says:

The progression is definitely in the right direction. I would have expected them to first eliminate the 'Coffee' as they further expanded their offerings. Bringing the siren and its meanings forward, as some barely noticed it inside the strong ring with the words, yes. But, worldwide, seeing a sign with just the mermaid at this point without the word Starbucks nearby? Not there yet.

I think they wanted to be more daring, and not put a black Starbucks under the mark, which would have been the expected next itteration. The vertical 'Starbucks' on the backside of the coffee cup feels a bit forced to me. I certainly hope they will have one adjacent on signage...

January 6, 2011 01:34 PM #

Richard Riley Germany says:

Listen to that drone on the video. Banging on and hyping up what was in effect the removal of the name and the changing of a colour. Please, this is another PEPSI job. They removed the name guys, its not THAT revolutionary. Nike did it years ago, lets not pretend its that big of a deal.
A 10 minute job in Illustrator and people talk about it like its the second coming of Christ.
Crap, overpriced coffee in a clinical beige setting surrounded by idiots on MacBooks whilst dross like St. Germain and other soulless music gently sucks your soul out of your lower regions.

Apart from that, it's great....hahaha.
Consume consume consume, until there's nothing LEFT to consume.

January 6, 2011 04:49 PM #

Marnie Lett Canada says:

Destined to fail... in Starbucks this AM I asked staff about their thoughts.  Got 1 positive, 1 unsure and 1 negative. And so it went:
ME: well you can't put a green logo on a green apron, so I guess those will go?
STAFF: oh no, they'll just put a white ring around the mermaid and colour her white.
ME: Well the new logo is actually about freeing the mermaid from her circle shackle according to your CEO.
STAFF: oh. but they still can't do away with the green aprons.
ME: why?
STAFF: well its our mantra, we have the "green apron smile", the "green apron service," the "green apron greeting", etc.,
ME: oh, I wish you all the best with the integration.
I'm betting on a recall...

January 6, 2011 10:23 PM #

Marnie Lett Canada says:

My main point is that the staff don't even get it, nor have they been prepared to handle customers about it - not that scripts are necessary, but a minimum of prep would have been required. This inadequacy of prep / info with the  staff speaks volumes about the management and indicates where its all headed.

And I'll never be convinced that they should proceed with removing their 'Starbucks' name.  Sure - let 'Coffee' go.

January 7, 2011 12:47 PM #

Bill Bishop Canada says:

Hey Marnie, could they use the new logo in white on green aprons? And do you think it would still be recognizable when used beside the all caps name on the outside of the shops?

Here's another updated logo you might like: s1099.photobucket.com/.../

January 7, 2011 06:18 PM #

Steve Marx United States says:

This will be very successful for Starbucks.  Among the many reasons why it will work is one I have not read among the comments that preceded mine:  They aren't dropping their name from signage and advertising... any more than Apple or Nike or Target or Mercedes have.  All they've done is separate their icon from their name (exactly like those other 4 brands I mentioned, and thousands of others)... and they simply have not yet shown us the applications (except for the coffee cup, which looks really good).  I can't imagine that they don't already have all those applications worked out; they just haven't shared them yet.  They're teasing us to get us talking... and it's working.

January 6, 2011 10:57 PM #

A Sauer United States says:

I've seen a few people mention those brands as comparisons here and I really hope Starbucks doesn't think it's in an aspirational league with them. Because it's not. And it isn't anywhere near it (with the exception of Target which is a giant retailer and not quite the same single-core-product category). Does anyone ever see anyone walking around voluntarily, and proudly wearing a starbucks tshirt? Has anyone ever seen a starbucks bumper sticker? Does anyone aim to live the starbucks lifestyle? I may be proven wrong and Starbucks could end up being the next big lifestyle brand but I doubt it.

January 8, 2011 12:56 AM #

Steve Marx United States says:

My point was less about the iconic nature of these brands, and more about the fact that separating the icon from the name--making them into separate elements that can be manipulated in unlimited ways--is really quite common.  I think that's what's going on here.  Starbucks has not decided to leave their name on the cutting room floor, but merely to cut it apart from the icon itself.  I could have mentioned Chevrolet and its bow-tie (or literally thousands of other examples).  I think Chevrolet is probably held in lower esteem than Starbucks, and it works fine for them.  

January 8, 2011 05:15 PM #

A Sauer United States says:

I would have to strenuously disagree. Ever see those Calvin peeing on something stickers? I see them with Chevy verses Ford and Ford verses Chevy all the time (mostly trucks). Even if Chevy has faltered of late it has very string brand champions. In fact, that's one thing that makes Chevy different. It's champions have something to champion their brand against. A rival. Every great brand has a rivalry of some kind that elevates its profile. Who is Starbucks rival? (No, it's not McDonald's.)

But that's neither here not there for this. I can understand your reasoning here, even if I myself don't think it's a good move.

January 8, 2011 06:34 PM #

Anthony Pappas - CEO, Pappas Group United States says:

I would hesitate in comparing the recent change of the Starbucks logo to the Gap gaffe.  Unlike Gap, which completely redesigned its logo, what we're seeing with Starbucks is the natural evolution of an iconic brand and logo.  I suspect that Starbucks is planning to diversify their product line with non-coffee related products and I’ve heard mention that this could be supermarkets but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went beyond that.  As for the logo, this change simply removes the "Starbucks Coffee" border.   With the brand's current positioning, it is not a bold move to remove their name and 'coffee' simply doesn't apply to a number of their products already.  So from a business and brand development standpoint, I understand the rationale.

January 7, 2011 11:33 AM #

ML Canada says:


I have been saying the exact same thing at my agency for the past few days, and have had a hard time finding people who agree with me.

Losing the name and the black colouration is definitely going to erode some brand value... I mean many people have commented on the fact that they didn't even know it was a siren in the middle! Plus, as the article states, when people have imitated the logo, it has always included the signature outer ring (often with the stars). If they remove the name, and the imitation Starbucks' still use the outer ring, won't that simply add to consumer confusion?

Read my full response at my blog.. and share your opinions!

January 7, 2011 12:51 PM #

Thanassis Athanassopoulos Greece says:

there is one thing I know: "if it works don't fix it!" Besides, this
new logo brings out the creepy siren even more! plus it's too green for
me...Having said that, I must admit that they are doing a hell of a good job preparing for the launch, with optimal usage of all possible media.

January 7, 2011 02:45 PM #

Anthony D. Nelson United States says:

I don't see the need for an established, popular brand to change their logo or branding. I think changing the brand image for a company as large as Starbucks can only lead to negative feedback and provides little reward.

January 7, 2011 03:29 PM #

Bill Bishop Canada says:

I like the daring, monochomatic elegance - like others, at first I didn't like it, but this sleek image fits with a brand that wants to continue to innovate

The new logo moves the brand ahead -  but where will it go next? Some ideas: s1099.photobucket.com/.../

January 7, 2011 05:43 PM #

Comments are closed

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