Starbucks embraces festivity while avoiding controversy with holiday cups

The coffee chain has listened to critics and is hoping to sidestep online outrage with this years’ designs. The company’s COO said it had the ‘opportunity to invoke something special.’

Starbucks is fully embracing the holiday spirit in an effort to the avoid consumer backlash that has almost become an annual trend.

Business Insider reported:

On Thursday, the coffee giant announced it would be doubling down on festive cheer in 2018, after holiday sales slumped in 2017.

“Last year, our stores didn’t sufficiently reflect the festive environment,” Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer said on a call with investors on Thursday.

Starbucks said each of the designs, which include red stripes, holly, red houndstooth and green argyle with stars, has a story behind it.

In a press release, Starbucks wrote:

The Starbucks Creative team found inspiration for this year’s holiday look in one of Starbucks most time-honored traditions, Starbucks Christmas Blend, which will be back in Starbucks stores tomorrow (Nov. 2) for another holiday season. When dreaming up holiday plans more than 18 months ago, they passed around one-pound coffee bags from more than 30 years of the beloved brew. They talked about old stories, remembering an unexpected gift for a customer at the Pike Place store, and former coffee buyer Dave Olsen delivering Christmas Blend to Seattle area stores from the roasting plant in his pickup truck.

… They snipped pieces from Starbucks holidays past – a star, a branch of coffee cherries, a flame. They added doses of vintage colors and patterns, like mint green and argyle and reinterpreted them with graphic flair, and a dash of glitter and shine.

Starbucks also brought back its controversial red cup—but this year, it’s reusable (highlighting its sustainability efforts).

In 2015, consumers lashed out at the coffee chain for its red cups not being”Christmas enough.” The outrage was followed by criticism the following two years, as consumers complained about Starbucks holiday designs.

Fortune reported:

Last year’s cups were white with festive doodles, inviting customers to color their own holiday magic. The cups were fine, but an advertisement for the design caused an uproar because it featured two women (potentially romantically) leaning toward each other while enjoying Starbucks drinks together.

In 2016, a limited design devoted to unity was attacked when customers mistook it for the official holiday design.

Starbucks seems to address the 2015 controversy in a tongue-in-cheek way in this video:

However, its designs are a safe choice for an organization that has been under scrutiny for its holiday images and messaging.

The Takeout reported:

For 2018, Starbucks appears to be striving for a lukewarm medium: more festive than the sacrilegiously plain (according to some) red ones, but no hints toward multiculturalism as on last year’s cup. Argyle patterns and coffee cherries are about as non-controversial as you can get.

Following Starbucks’ announcement, executive editor of Restaurant Business Magazine, Jonathan Maze, tweeted:

Though Maze was sardonically referencing the history of backlash Starbucks has faced after debuting its holiday designs, his tweets highlight the increasing necessity of communicators listening to consumer feedback and considering potential crises when selecting messages and images for campaigns.

CNBC reported:

Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer says the company really listened to customers this season to build holiday plans, which include less merchandise, a reusable red cup and an earlier release of its holiday cups and beverages.

“We were reminded just how much our base enjoys the holidays and wants to seek out ways to participate in the season with us. It triggers positive emotions in their minds during the season, and we know we have the opportunity to invoke something special in our customers,” Brewer told CNBC.

Starbucks also embraced its festive messaging—and diversity—through storytelling. Its holiday campaign features stories from the coffee chain’s partners:

In a press release, Starbucks wrote:

While Starbucks ads always feature actual partners as baristas, the spots in the new holiday campaign go several steps further by including partners and their families in their lives outside the stores.

“It was a chance for us to lean into our brand values and who we are by showing real moments of connection. We are at our best when we come together,” said Tiffany Spatafore, director of global advertising and brand communications for Starbucks.

In the spot for Peppermint Mocha, which features a woman picking up holiday beverages and walking through the snow to bring to them to friends at a party, viewers will see the Stockert siblings performing music on a balcony. Below them, on the street, they’ll see Cyndee Vanderford, another Starbucks partner, walking alongside her son, Matthew, who she adopted at age 4 from Uganda, with the support of Starbucks U.S. Adoption Assistance Program. They’ll also hear music specially written by Kayla Stockert that scores the spot.

… A second ad, also debuting this week, for Caramel Brulée Latte, tells the story of a man on his way to meet a loved one getting off a train. On his way, he passes James S. Johnson, Jr., a Navy veteran and former Starbucks partner, who is seen greeting his wife, Esther Ortega-Johnson, also a partner, and Maria Campos and her daughter, Isamar Campos, both hired by Starbucks at 100,000 Opportunities job fair in Los Angeles last year.

What do you think of this year’s holiday cup designs and the messages behind them?

(image via)


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