Decidedly, major American brands are having a rough time managing their graphic identities! After the new Tropicana packaging fiasco in 2009 (read my analysis), and the rapid backtracking on the new Gap logo in 2010 (read my analysis), will 2011 see Starbucks saying mea culpa?
On 5 January (just three days ago!) a recast of its logo was announced by Starbucks - penned by Howard Schultz ("Looking Forward to Starbucks' Next Chapter"):
"…our new brand identity will give us the freedom and flexibility to explore innovations and new channels of distribution that will keep us in step with our current customers and build strong connections with new customers".
In the same blog, its design is explained, in a style that smacks too much of marketing:
"Here we are today. 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? "
The reaction was vehement. The first of the 774 comments in response to the CEO's post was brutal: "Who's the bonehead in your marketing department that removed the world-famous name of Starbucks Coffee from your new logo?". All the others, like the majority of comments from professionals (such as bnet: "New Starbucks Logo Signals Onset of Brand Worsification"), are in the same vein and say, "Give us back our Starbucks logo".
I am also appalled by the total incomprehension that Starbucks has of the significance of an iconic logo. It plays three roles:
- It is an identification mark – made even stronger if the brand is an icon.
- It is a primordial emotional link between the brand and its consumers.
- A logo is most often binomial, composed of the brand name and a symbol. Displaying the name is essential (and luxury brands whose logos use ONLY the brand name are proof of this): the name serves as a representation - it invokes a worldview shared by the community built around the object / person / brand. It indicates power - one that allows us to evoke the object, to relate to it with our own interpretations.
The new Starbucks logo disregards these factors:
- It drops the name "Starbucks Coffee" – ostensibly with a wish to expand into other categories. But this rejection is also of one of its roots and its history. Starbucks stands emptied of its meaning and turns commonplace. To achieve the desired diversification, simply deleting the word "Coffee" would have sufficed.
- It abandons its identifying form: the "seal"/"label". By doing so Starbucks rejects the whole discourse on quality and authenticity conveyed by the symbol.
- It abandons one of its two iconic colours, black. Black is also the colour of elegance, luxury, and it emphasizes the green. But it is the black/green combination that has been copied all over the world. Starbucks lays the door open to counterfeits that will continue to capitalize on it, thanks to a recollection of the classic image in the minds of consumers.
- The choice of retaining just the Siren again shows a poor judgement that amazes me: consumers do not know who this feminine image is in the centre of the Starbucks logo. In other words, the brand preserves the least identifiable feature of all... and in the end retains only a vague feminine image, devoid of meaning. Is it blindness or arrogance?
Starbucks was smart enough to announce its new logo three months prior to its induction planned for March. Does it mean that they have factored in the eventuality of pulling back?