Starbucks is in the middle of a Christmas controversy of digital proportion as this year’s now annual holiday cup is just a plain red cup, described by the company as “a two-toned ombre design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below.”
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) November 5, 2015
Starbucks has featured holiday-themed coffee cups since 1997, with designs ranging from snowflakes, ornaments and reindeer—but all were associated with Christmas. The lack of Christmas on this year’s cup has stirred a social media firestorm epitomized by internet evangelist Joshua Feuerstein, who posted a video on Facebook on November 5 saying Starbucks “wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups. That’s why they’re just plain red.”
The video has garnered more than 12.8 million views, more than 157,000 likes and been shared more than 457,000 times. Feuerstein “tricked” Starbucks into acknowledging Christmas by telling the Starbucks barista his name was “Merry Christmas” so it would have to be written on the cup, and he encouraged others to do the same.
As reported on BuzzFeed, others have followed suit and are posting selfies on social media with close-ups of their Christmas-marked cups.
Comments and pushback caused Starbucks to clarify its decision to remove all holiday symbols. “This year’s design is another way Starbucks is inviting customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas,” according to a press release. Jeffrey Fields, VP design and content at Starbucks, said the company “wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories. Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays. We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it.”
So far, apparently, that simplicity and quietness have not been successful. According to Amobee Brand Intelligence’s data, reports the Wall Street Journal, “there have been 40,455 tweets between Nov. 5 and noon eastern time on Nov. 9 around ‘Red Cup,’ the sarcastic hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks or ‘Starbucks Red Cup.'”
Amobee’s data found 67 percent of the tweets around Starbucks’ holiday cups carried negative sentiment, but only 17 percent of that showed frustration toward Starbucks. Most of the negative tweets expressed outrage over the backlash surrounding the cups, notes the Wall Street Journal, such as, “I can’t roll my eyes any harder at this red cup Starbucks controversy.” (Neither can Ellen DeGeneres, who suggests that protesters refer to the red cups as “Satan sippers,” below.)
In a Fox News op-ed piece, Todd Starnes writes, “Should we really expect a secular company to embrace Christianity? Whatever. I mean—really. All of this outrage over a coffee cup? It’s not the Holy Grail, folks. It’s a cranberry-colored, environmentally-friendly coffee cup.” Starnes added, “The way I see it, we ought not to be telling bakeries and florists how to run their business and we ought not to be telling Starbucks how to run theirs.”
Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump called for a boycott of Starbucks at a rally yesterday in Springfield, Illinois, reports the Chicago Tribune.
“I wonder if we’re not overthinking or overanalyzing this.” said Paul Batura, VP communications at Focus on the Family. “Christmas isn’t found in a cup or in a snowflake. Instead, it’s found in the hearts and minds of those of us who believe that God sent His only son to earth in the form of an innocent, helpless baby.”
Across the pond, British politician David Burrowes said, “The Starbucks coffee cup change smells more of political correctness than a consumer-led change,” reports the New York Daily News.
Meanwhile, Starbucks is promoting the holiday with a potpourri of products including Starbucks Christmas Blend, Christmas Blend Vintage 2015, Christmas Blend Espresso Roast, Starbucks Reserve Christmas 2015, along with Teavana Tea Gingerbread Tea Latte and Teavana Joy 2015 Tea Blend.
Tastes of the Season food treats include a Mini Snowman Doughnut, an Ugly Sweater Cookie, Holiday Turkey & Stuffing Panini, Cranberry Bliss Bar, Gingerbread Loaf, Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop and Frosted Snowman Cookie.
If you live in Asia, a Starbucks Card adorned with Swarovski crystals, small enough to fit on a key ring, will be available in select markets. It features a barcode in place of a magnetized stripe so the crystals can cover the entire face of the card.
“This Starbucks Card is a premium option for customers looking to give a gift to themselves or their favorite Starbucks fan with something special,” said Brady Brewer, SVP Category Brand Management for Starbucks China and Asia Pacific Region, in a press release. “This is just the beginning of what we’re going to see for the holidays at Starbucks.”