Starbucks provokes storm in a coffee cup with rebrand

The 'Starbucks siren' takes centre stage, as the coffee chain drops its name from its logo. Will it suffer a similar fate to Gap?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 02 Mar 2012
An odd move from Starbucks, which has taken the words ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Coffee’ off its logo as part of a rebrand. The new design, which consists solely of the current mermaid-esque 'Starbucks siren', is apparently part of a plan to move away from coffee and into new markets and territories. Loyalists may also be disappointed to learn that it's scrapping its distinctive porcelain mugs in-store in favour of bone china cups – because we punters are so much more sophisticated these days, apparently. Who knew?

The theory seems to be that this more generic, less corporate logo will be more in keeping with the new strategy introduced by CEO Howard Schultz, who was brought back in to overhaul the ailing chain in 2008. This has involved a move away from its old identikit look - it's experimenting with new formats, like a new ‘neighbourhood’ store in Soho, as well as a seat-free ‘walk-through’ shop in Borough. It's also experimenting with new products - it now sells a range of tea, ice cream and instant coffee in supermarkets too. And since new non-English markets now contribute a big chunk of its profits, you could argue it makes sense to drop the English lettering.

It’s not the chain's first rebrand. Back in the hazy days of 1971, when the company was decidedly more free love, the ‘Starbucks siren’ was be-crowned and bare-breasted, with not one but two mermaids’ tails. Since then (thanks partly to the odd objection from Christian groups), she's been cropped to a headshot to give a more corporate look.

However, we imagine that redesign was accompanied by rather less nonsensical brand-speak than this one: according to Starbucks's official release:  'Our new evolution liberates the Siren from the outer ring, making her the true, welcoming face of Starbucks... She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other. And as always, she is urging all of us forward to the next thing. After all, who can resist her?' Er, right.

But what will its customers make of it? Some may rue the demise of Starbucks' iconic green and black logo. Some may find it confusing, if (like us) they've never actually noticed the siren, particularly. Others, we suspect, will find this no doubt hugely expensive rebrand almost entirely pointless. And if so, Starbucks can expect to face some noisy objections; just look at Gap, which had to withdraw its own expensive revamp after vociferous complaints from its customers.

Personally, we quite like the stripped-down logo. And the rationale does make sense. But we're inclined to disapprove purely on the basis of that press release...

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