Saturday, January 8, 2011

Starbucks Energizes ... Without Caffeine

This past week, Starbucks announced that they are changing their logo.  Maybe the move shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.

Starbucks thought about this change long and hard. Ultimately, they decided it was the perfect way to celebrate their company's 40th anniversary and to position themselves for growth into new products and countries.

Starbucks new logo is absent of words, heralding the fact that they believe they have reached iconic status ... not unlike that of the Nike swoosh, McDonald's arches, or Mickey's ears. While there is definitely a modicum of truth here, I find myself wondering what advantage dropping the Starbucks name from their logo actually provides to the company and whether dropping the iconic green/black color combination is the wisest move.

In all my years of conducting brand research, I have learned one important thing about logos: consumers not only use them as a product identifier, but often they also form strong emotional bonds with the logos. Take, for example, the Gap logo debacle in 2010. Consumer and media reactions to the new logo were so resoundingly negative that Gap actually abandoned their logo plans. 

That got me to thinking. Just what are consumers saying about the Starbucks logo change? So, I wandered over to their Facebook page and did a sentiment analysis of the comments made during the last 24 hours. The results were irrefutable - consumers do not like the new Starbucks logo.

Negative comments:  162 (82%)
Positive comments:     26  (13%)
Neutral comments:      10  (5%) 

Here is a sampling of some of the comments I read.

"To me, the new logo does not have the inviting bravado and "elegant chic" of the very popular old logo." 

"I think that changing the logo is not a good idea, why change a good thing?" 

"The new Starbucks logo is severely stupid, and looks extremely cheap." 

"Dropping "Starbucks Coffee" from your logo is like taking off the "LV" from the Louis Vuitton handbags...a big mistake Starbucks!" 

"No, no, no, no! Don't change the logotype!" 


"The new logo is so ugly." 

"Why oh why are you walking away from the Starbucks brand?" 

"They can remove the "coffee" word but they ABSOLUTELY NEED to keep the circular STARBUCKS around the Siren; and add some BLACK cos green and white is so boring and bland." 

"Taking away the name "Starbucks" from the cup is like taking the name "Gucci" off of one of their bags. The prestige is gone in buying your $4.00 coffee...." 

"The new logo is awful. I hate it. I know that won't stop you from selling coffee, but it makes the people buying your coffee feel even more ridiculous about spending $5 per looks ridiculously cheap."

"Ok, don't even think about bringing that sucky logo to France."

"New logo is a joke. I'm waiting for the punchline . . ." 

"The new Logo actually disturbs me. It has been simplified and dumbed down that it just looks generic. Is this what is going to happen to the product as well?" 

"Am SHOCKED your marketing department would let you get away with this move. Starbucks is green PLUS BLACK. Removing the classy circular brand is another mistake." 

"Greetings from good old Germany .... KEEP your OLD Logo, we didn't need the new one!!!!" 

"Please don't change the logo. The old one is perfect .. why mess with success???" 

"Dear Starbucks, take a cue from GAP, read the majority of comments here. Your new logo is terrible and your loyal customers don't like it!"

In their book Consumer Behavior, Wayne D. Hoyer and Deborah J. Macinnis say the following:
"Surprisingly, the majority of dissatisfied consumers do not complain ... even a few consumer complaints can indicate marketing related problems that need attention."

If Hoyer and Macinnis are indeed accurate, consumers are even more negative about the Starbucks logo change than indicated here. As a market researcher, I am perplexed by it all. I have no doubt that both Gap and Starbucks committed a large amount of dollars and time to thoroughly researching this change. So, how is it that the enormity of the negative public opinion was missed? Or, is it that they understood consumer sentiment but knew that it wouldn't affect their buying habits?


As a marketer, I understand that Starbucks needed to refresh their image. I also am sympathetic to their need to remove any connotations to coffee from the label if they plan to extend the equity of their brand. However, I am questioning why they are telling  consumers that the logo change is "insignificant."


Consumers apparently do not agree.


  1. That was interesting and inspiring.
    I would add something, though. There is a more interesting thing on this logo than in the Nike or McDonalds. These other two are icons, simple icons that are broadly recognizable. They tell you a lot about the brand but nothing else.
    In this case we can identify the sirens directly with fantastic literature, stories or myths. Maybe I´m being too optimistic but I can see a good move here. A mermaid doesn´t appear often in our conversation but from now on, in few years, we´ll be able to directly think on Starbucks when talking about them.

  2. Julie, I just happened to see your comment today. Sorry about that! Great comment and I think we are already seeing some evidence of this. Thanks for sharing.


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