Starbucks New Logo a Mid-Life Crisis in the Making


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.[more]

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?


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