Here we go again. This week, another major consumer brand unveiled a new logo. This time around, it’s my beloved Starbucks.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Some logos do need upgrades. The original can and sometimes should be improved upon. Belk’s latest logo change – while not necessary – wasn’t actually all that bad, for example. People are still going on about the Pepsi logo redesign, the Tropicana incident is still used as a cautionary tale in design and brand management circles, and of course, there is the king of the logo redesign debacles: Gap:
Seemingly undaunted by the prospect of having its own logo redesign firebombed across the Twitternets by masses of disappointed customers and fans, Starbucks moved ahead to mark its 40th birthday with such an exercise, and the result is displayed below. Gone are the words “starbucks” and “coffee.” Gone is the familiar ring of green. The siren has been… “liberated.”
As a fan of Starbucks – something I routinely have to apologize for to my coffee snob friends – I have to admit that I am not thrilled. I mean… it isn’t bad. But it isn’t great either. Or even good. But I will get back to that.
First, from a brand management standpoint, I tend to look at rebranding projects like this one as exercises in futility: Starbucks didn’t need a new logo. Its current one isn’t hurting sales. It isn’t hurting the business. No one was complaining that it was ugly, old or ineffective. The Starbucks brand, in fact, relies on the familiarity and authenticity of its universally recognized logo to sell $5 cups of coffee. I would even venture to guess that the closer the logo brings a Starbucks customer to the original experience of being at Seattle’s Pike Street store, the more its perceived value will tend to increase. Changing the logo, making it more conceptual and less… rustic effectively increases the distance between the customer and Pike Street rather than shortening it. Thus, not only was the rebranding unnecessary in the sense that it will not increase sales or improve the business in any way, it also constitutes somewhat of a risk in that it effectively dilutes the brand for consumers. Not super clever when both McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts are making a strong push in the coffee retail world with decent coffee and lower prices.
From a business standpoint, the expense of now having to replace every logo at every store and change the logo on every bag, box, cup and mug – all for the sake of… change – can’t possibly be the smartest investment for Starbucks, considering that the impact on sales, on brand loyalty, and on business in general will be essentially zero. Sure, it will get a nice spike in online mentions. But there are better and more cost-effective ways of doing that. (I just hope that this “project” wasn’t the reason why Starbucks prices jumped up this month. That would be a bit disappointing for loyal customers like me.)
Finally, from a design standpoint, I understand the tendency to want to simplify a logo, to strip it down to its essence… but there is a point where stripping down just makes a logo look bland. Not so much when it sits by itself on a sheet of paper (it actually looks fine on its own) but when printed on a cup, it looks unfinished. It just doesn’t pop anymore. It just kind of sits there, missing the rest of itself. The new design strips the cup of its appeal, of its energy, and this is a serious problem for a brand whose image is so dependent on the look of its packaging.
One of the rare branding icons of the 20th century – not the Starbucks logo itself but the Starbucks cup of coffee – is what Starbucks is effectively destroying with this decision. I don’t know the extent to which Starbucks’ management realizes that the cup itself has always been at least as important to brand loyalty as the contents of the cup – if not more so. Look at the image of the different logos on the cups (above). Doesn’t the new cup just look… like something is missing?
Though the logo change has its fans, it seems that they are in the minority. One fan in particular expressed his disappointment on Starbucks’ Facebook page shortly after the announcement: “Was the Starbucks corporate office asleep through all of the Gap controversy when they tried changing their logo? Leave it alone! There’s nothing wrong with it.” (Source – CNN Money)
Others joined in the protest:
“Who’s the bonehead in your marketing department that removed the world-famous name of Starbucks Coffee from your new logo? This gold card user isn’t impressed.”
“I prefer the old logo. I’ve been a Starbucks fan since the late 80’s. I’m all for change…I think it’s great, but I’m not impressed with the new logo.”
“Removing the Starbucks name off your logo does not make any sense. I do not see the logic of your business development folks.”
“Your logo is what makes Starbucks, Starbucks. Whenever I’m in an airport or a mall, I look for that glorious green sign – it tells me that help is on the way! Anyone can draw a green mermaid. Having the mermaid without the Starbucks around it is incomplete. Do you really want us thinking “this is incomplete” when we’re consuming your product?”
“I’m very disappointed in the new logo. Simplistic logos and designs are great for many corporations but not yours… Very unimpressed.”
“Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
“Looks like Starbucks is trying to pull a Gap move. FAIL. I hate the new logo.”
“Please keep the words. Don’t dumb down the logo.”
“Might as well hold a dunkin donuts cup if i am going to hold a cup with a POS logo.“
And my favorite: “Ew.”
I was hard-pressed to find a whole lot of comments on Starbucks’ Facebook page that were positive. I did find a few, but they seemed to be eclipsed by the preponderance of comments denouncing the change as a bad idea.
Ultimately though, none of this matters. If Starbucks wants to change its logo, it will. As bland and uninspired as it may be, it isn’t nearly as awful as The Gap’s redesign in 2010, nor is it the end of the world. So rather than ramble on about it, I thought I might suggest a little exercise in rebranding, à la Starbucks: What if we took other circular logos and… “freed the mermaid,” so to speak? What would happen to say… BMW, VW and other popular logos? Probably something like this:
Not exactly improvements either. (Please feel free to post your ideas somewhere and link to your beautiful work in the comment section.)
Not to end on a sarcastic note though (um… never mind), I want to close this post by turning to the future of 2021 and ponder what Starbucks’ 50th anniversary logo will look like. Maybe something a little like this…
(Forgive the really bad photoshop cropping. I was in a hurry.)
Better yet, this image I just pulled from Starbucks’ very own Facebook page:
God bless user generated content.
At any rate, time for me to head over to Starbucks and grab myself a little morning courage – with the good logo – at least until March.
And who knows, maybe we will all eventually grow to like the new logo. In due time. Why not.