The Starbucks Debate

14 Jan 2011|Added Value

Starbucks has unveiled a revamped global brand identity as part of a plan to mark its 40th year in business and expand the brand beyond coffee.  Is this a wise decision?

There’s been a lot in the media this week about the decision by coffee giant, Stabucks, to make a significant change to their logo. The brave move has fuelled good debate among marketing teams everywhere – ours included.

From the Starbuck’s perspective it makes perfect business sense – of course. Howard Schultz, the Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive, said the company was at a “very important point” in its history and was seeking a “new blueprint for profitability”.

He said: “Even though we have been and always will be a coffee company and retailer, it’s possible that we’ll have other products with our name on it but no coffee in it.”

Image Source.

According to Steve Barrett, the Starbucks global creative vice-president, the new look tested well with loyal consumers so he did not expect his company to have a similar experience to clothing chain Gap, which launched a new logo last year before returning to the original one after widespread criticism.

And overall, we would tend to agree that it’s a good move.  From both a cultural and design perspective, it’s a brave decision that works.  We asked some of our UK team what they thought:

Sam Barton, Cultural Insight
This is an interesting example of simplification, something that is ever present in the design blogosphere. Take a look at this link as example, the work of a Turkish Agency called Antrepo, that has been doing the rounds recently.

Another crucial reference for discussion about rebrands like this is the recent Gap debacle in which their new logo was so instantly and universally reviled that they were forced to go back on themselves and return to their original identity.  Unlike Gap (which lost visual equity), the Starbucks example focuses on their most characterful element – the mermaid.

In the brand personality world of archetypes, Starbucks is defined as an explorer brand symbolized by the mermaid. So, from a semiotic perspective, Starbucks are showing their commitment to their role as an explorer – which is perfect for leaving their comfort zone and expanding their offer.

The Mermaid was always a curiously archaic part of their logo (charmingly so) and so to keep hold of it in this act of ‘modernisation’ is an interesting, and I would say brave, choice. It is recognizable but does not share the simple “logo” quality of things like apple or even Mickey Mouse.

They retain a level of character as an explorer; of myth and intrigue.

They become modern without becoming anonymous, minimal without becoming indistinct.

The logo is simplified without losing character and visual equity; a perfect tool to expand away from coffee etc.,  freed somewhat from the perceived brand history without losing its personality.

Emma Sexton, Head of Creative Expression
Love it? Hate it? There is always going to be outrage when a big, (largely) loved brand changes. As a rule us humans HATE change so it is always going to be a brave but necessary move for a brand.

Starbucks is a huge brand and needs to continually evolve – and so does their identity. By dropping the copy and making the Siren an iconic image they are well on their way to creating a strong stamp that many brands want to emulate – the Nike tick is probably the most iconic and aspirational of all.  Starbucks is now globally recognised and this new ‘stamp’ is going to allow them to expand their market and products. Change is good and what better time than now at the start of a new year.

But is the brand ready?

Clare Scott, Director
Why remove the name Starbucks? It travels well (could be a petrol or a soup as much as a coffee) – and without it, the logo looks a little…empty. Surely the name could have stayed even if the word Coffee was redundant?

And is the siren really so well known without the rest of the Starbucks Coffee context? If they’ve asked loyalists then they had Starbucks in their minds already probably… would it fare so well in a blind logo recall test?

Also having lost the double outer ring it feels a little less secure, impactful, weighty…and not in a good way.

My view: keep the name, ditch the word Coffee and bring back the outer circles of trust and solidity.

The truth is that all these points are of course valid. Building an iconic brand with a strong personality will certainly stand the test of time. Knowing when and how to grow beyond the core product needs careful consideration. Let’s hope Starbucks have got it right. It would be a shame to see another global giant fall at the branding hurdle.

What’s your opinion?

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