Starbucks & The Power of the Red Cup
November 9, 2015
November 9, 2015
Now that Halloween has come and gone, brands are moving quickly to capitalize on the opportunities of the holiday season. And no brand knows how to excel at seasonal branding better than Starbucks.
The craze of the Pumpkin Spice Latte seems to begin earlier every fall, and now other brands are jumping on the pumpkin bandwagon from Dunkin Donuts to Panera to Oreo. As winter approaches, Starbucks rolls out not only new seasonal offerings like Peppermint Mocha and Chestnut Praline but also launches the iconic red cup that officially signals the beginning of the holiday season.
There’s even an entire website devoted to a countdown to #redcups, which now informs visitors red cups have been available since November 3rd. The website also has sections devoted to the official holiday drink menu for the year and a preview of the year’s holiday cup design before its release.
Yet, some are criticizing the 2015 red cup design for its lack of signature holiday season symbols such as ornaments or snowflakes. Some Christian activists claim that the unadorned red cup dismisses Christmas in favor of political correctness and some are now telling Starbucks their name is “Merry Christmas” in protest.
Starbucks addresses the design controversy on its website with a statement from Jeffrey Fields, vice president of Design & Content. This year’s cup “features a two-toned ombré design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below,” said Fields. The strikingly minimalist design is thought by Starbucks to embrace the “simplicity and quietness” of the holidays, honoring Starbucks place as a sanctuary while still featuring the classic Starbucks holiday red customers love. The design also draws from customers who doodle on their cups, with Starbucks seeking to welcome all stories with a “purity of design” this year.
Will the controversy erode the power of the red cup? It seems unlikely. Starbucks has been serving holiday drinks in a unique cup since 1997 and has grown its holiday presence around it. The company has been extremely successful in positioning feelings of holiday cheer with a Peppermint Mocha Latte in its signature cup, and customers are hooked.
Since the release last week, thousands of posts with the hashtag #redcup have been shared on Instagram, and Starbucks’ Twitter has been busy celebrating the release with happy customers and a special hashtag/emoji combo.
And the viral media coverage could boost Starbucks seasonal branding. Publications such as Fortune, CNN Money, Today.com, US Magazine and many more have all reported on the backlash and generated more attention for Starbucks. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a marketing technology company Amobee Brand Intelligence analyzed data and said that “digital content engagement around Starbucks has more than doubled in the past five days.” Of the thousands of tweets, 67 percent have expressed a negative sentiment. But interestingly, most of those tweets are people complaining that the controversy even exists in the first place, with only 17 percent of those negative tweets expressing frustration toward Starbucks itself.
Want to weigh in on the debate? Buzzfeed and the Boston Business Journal are both running polls. So far, 81 percent of Buzzfeed respondents have voted that they “Can’t talk/don’t care. Drinking coffee,” and 67 percent of Boston Business Journal readers have voted that “it doesn’t matter to [them] either way.”
As for me, I’m still captivated by the power of the red cup and will happily drink out of one for the rest of the season.