Starbucks, which turns 40 later this month, recently unveiled a new logo, omitting the words “Starbucks” and “coffee” from its iconic siren image. While the new look isn’t a huge departure from the current insignia, it is no doubt a large-scale effort given its presence in urban cores, rural off-ramps and grocery stores. The upscale coffee shop chain, once the prototype for fast food underdogs, has since seen both its stock and marketshare slip significantly in recent years. This is due in part to overexposure and the offerings of its resurgent competitors, such as McDonald’s popular McCafé menu items.
We can look back through history and find that market cycles such as this are hardly scarce: Coke vs. Pepsi, 7up vs. Sprite, McDonald’s vs. Burger King vs. Wendy’s; the list goes on. Another commonality to these tussles: knee-jerk rebranding campaigns. Undoubtedly, they are applicable in some cases—but certainly not all. Company officials have said that part of the logic is that the switch allows the continued evolution of the brand from coffee-based beverages to other products, retail outlets and other countries.
An expansion of this magnitude is no small feat, but logic would dictate that a pared-down logo would better prepare them for such an undertaking. After all, slapping “Starbucks Coffee” on a bottle of wine seems about as relevant as opening a new store in a non-English speaking country under the same brand.
To assume that the majority of people identify the siren with Starbucks is a gutsy call; it could be argued that the “Starbucks Coffee” script was in fact the most prominent part of the old logo. The folks at Starbucks are also hedging their bets that they have successfully injected themselves into the muscle memory of our society. We’re as familiar with the company’s humble beginnings in the Pacific Northwest as we are with the hordes of people who gleefully order “grande, two-pump vanilla, non-fat, extra hot” lattes.
It makes you wonder if the company ignored the disapproval over last year’s rebranding efforts of Seattle’s Best Coffee, its subsidiary brand. Back then, CEO Howard Schultz said that he considered the Seattle’s Best brand to be “more of an approachable taste for a mainstream market.” In layman’s terms, this roughly translates to “safe and boring.” From this, it could be surmised that the same tactic is being employed with the Starbucks brand.
Schultz did, however, offer reassurance of the Starbucks brand to employees and stockholders recently when he noted that the company has record revenue and profit, and that the stock is sitting at a five-year high. The new logo is clearly an attempt by the company to forge ahead in a return to prominence.
Time will tell whether or not consumers share the same outlook as Starbucks, but we’re of the consensus that it’s an unnecessary alteration to an otherwise healthy logo.