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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Why the new Starbucks logo frightens me

By Alexandra Petri

starbucks logo.jpg(AP Photo)

There's a new Starbucks logo in town.

Many have already pointed out that, at the rate the logo is evolving, it will soon be nothing but an extreme close-up of the mermaid's nose. (An amusing diagram illustrates this point.)

But Starbucks dropping the word "coffee" from its logo because, as marketing professor John Quelch said, it's focusing on providing an "experience," is a bit unnerving.

Don't get me wrong. I am such an avid user of Starbucks that they once, without any prompting on my part, mailed me a gold membership card that entitled me to a 10 percent discount. Some people would view this as a warning sign, but given that I was paying enough money to Starbucks to keep a small island in donuts for a year, I felt that it was earned.

I recognize that worrying about Starbucks' logo change is sort of a first-world problem -- like accidentally buying too many colanders, or having to choose between yoga and spinning class, or being unable to return your MacBook Pro. But Starbucks used to be one of life's constants. Life changed. People came and went. But Starbucks just arrived and never departed. And street corners without Starbucks seemed somehow empty and foreign.

What's most depressing about the shift is not the change in logo design. After all, it's much better than the New Gap logo, which looked like it had been made by a four year-old with limited design experience who had forgotten he was supposed to turn it in until the last possible minute. What's distressing is how vague it is. Without Coffee welded in its title, Starbucks threatens to turn into Bed, Bath, and Beyond -- which, based on its name, could literally be anything. But Starbucks is not supposed to do this! It is supposed to provide reassurance.

I knew change had to come. Starbucks was the epitome of living in 2006. Those green straws were as ubiquitous as prosperity, Bushisms, and inexpensive bundled mortgages. Starbucks created our caffeine addictions, but it came to symbolize so much more. But now that times have changed, other companies are reaping what Starbucks has sown. We are still the same rabid, coffee-confection-craving maniacs that we were back then, because caffeine is literally addictive. But we no longer can afford the hobby. (Is this how you go from cocaine to crack?)

And cheaper vendors are picking up the slack. McDonald's reported a 38 percent spike in coffee sales last June after the launch of its McCafe line, and Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts are becoming increasingly invested in the coffee-purveying business. I love McDonalds's coffee, but I often find myself wishing it were slightly more expensive and tasted less agreeable. It's not quite the same.

"Can you yell something at me that sounds kind of Italian?" I meekly inquire of the non-barista. "And could you possibly play some songs by an artist who is indie, but not too indie, and whose voice sounds as though it needs oiling?" "No," she responds. "Can you at least get several aspiring novelists to hiss at me over their laptops whenever I approach a table?" I suggest. "Or just say 'triple grande no-whip chai doppio latte with a shot of almond' like you understand what any of those words mean!" "That sounds like something Hamlet would say to Polonius as proof that he had lost control of his faculties," this hypothetical McDonalds employee responds.

Maybe this is the "experience" Starbucks was talking about.

For years now, there have been stirrings that they might move to selling alcohol. After the smashing success of Four Loko in combining alcohol and caffeine, this seems like a wise move.

I just hope it's enough.

By Alexandra Petri  | January 6, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, Seems Suspect  | Tags:  America, coffee, the power of myth  
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We are running a test to see which Starbucks logo (old or new one) people prefer. If you feel like you have a strong opinion please let us know. We'll publish the results very soon! Here is the test:

Posted by: dimadrag | January 6, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

OK, I'll admit that I don't drink coffee. I did go to Starbucks once, and ordered a "no-whip triple chai doppio iced tea with a shot of almond." The barista called me a "Venti", which means "n-word" in my native Norwegian, and I shouted a few choice Norwegian obscenities back, and they kicked me out.

So I'm not really qualified to comment on the Starbucks logo. I did take the test in the first comment above, and I picked the new logo. But I was too embarrassed to say why. (The new mermaid's boobs are bigger!)

Posted by: divtune | January 6, 2011 9:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't think you have to be worried. :) Unlike Gap, it sounds like Starbucks actually has a plan here. I also really like that they're announcing this now knowing they're not going to make the switch until the summer. It gives customers time to react and Starbucks time to tweak things, if needed. In case you're interested, I wrote about why I think this is a great business move over at Outspoken Media.

Posted by: lisabarone | January 6, 2011 10:24 PM | Report abuse

It's simple cost cutting: the new logo is printed in one color instead of two.

Posted by: wemitchell | January 6, 2011 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Reduction of a logo to solely a symbol is always a mistake. The symbol and the name should always be together as they reinforce each other.

Take the Coke and Nike logos. Remove the words and you have two swirly things that people can't tell the difference between. And let me tell you, wearing sticky soda on your feet is almost as repulsive as drinking soda out of a smelly sneaker.

Or the McDonalds' golden arches standing by themselves. Looks more like a Men's room sign to me.

Ford and General Motors got their logos right, even though GM is abbreviated. Beats the heck out of Toyota's, which takes me ten minutes to figure out what it is, at which point I ask myself why I even bothered.

Which leads me back to the Starbucks logo. Simplified to a picture of just a mermaid, without the Starbucks name on it, is going to make people think of shampoo and bubble baths, not something to drink in the morning. Reduction of their name from their logo is going to result in reduction of their bottom line. Not something the shareholders are going to want to drink to.

Posted by: mhoust | January 7, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

mhoust wrote: The best comment of 2011!
LOLOAMLFORATOYOT -- I'll plan to wash the Coke out of my Nikes with Starbucks bubble bath.

I agree with you completely. I also think that car manufacturers should consider how their logos look in a rear view mirror. I'm always amused when I'm being followed by "ATOYOT".

Posted by: divtune | January 7, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

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