Starbucks Talks Logo Redesign


It's hard to believe, but in March, Starbucks will celebrate its 40th year in business, expanding from Seattle coffeehouses to a global caffeine powerhouse with more than 16,800 stores in 50 countries and an array of new products on grocery shelves. Starbucks possesses one of retail’s most familiar brand marks, and the company will celebrate its 40th anniversary by introducing a new modification of its trademark siren logo, the inspiration for which goes back to a 16th century Norse woodcut found by Seattle graphic designer Terry Heckler. Most notable in the redesign is dropping "Starbucks Coffee" from the ring encircling the mermaid. There have also been less obvious tweaks to the visual itself—more emphasis to the top of the siren and less on the scales—but consumers may see stylistic patterns reminiscent of the tails used elsewhere in Starbucks’ graphics. Terry Davenport, Starbucks' svp, marketing, spoke to AdweekMedia about what the company’s changing visual identity reveals about the brand’s expanding business model.

: What are your marketing plans for Starbucks’ 40th anniversary?

Terry Davenport: It’s a big year for Starbucks; we’re 40 years old and going into the new year we have big news this week as we unveil our new brand identity. Ten months ago (Starbucks’ chief executive) Howard Schultz grabbed a handful of us in his office and said, "Next March, let’s make a big idea, a big statement for our (employee) partners and our customers." That resonated among our most frequent (loyalty card) customers and we got encouraging response from them when we asked about changing the logo and about the 40th anniversary.

Q: Tell us about the new logo.

A: One of the unique things about Starbucks is that it has a large internal creative studio; 85 percent of the work was done in-house and then we reached out to (design and brand strategists) Lippincott for the global rollout. The logo has been about the same as in 1992 when Starbucks went public, with 165 stores. With this anniversary, we’ve created a brand identity that looks backward and forward. We separated the siren from the word ring and are keeping the wording "Starbucks Coffee" separate. It’s a nod to the future as we see our brand play in different categories both at retail and in CPG.

Q: How big was the challenge of modifying an iconic mark, given the negative reaction consumers had with the recent redesign of another well-known logo for the Gap?

A: Obviously with a brand with such a huge profile as Starbucks, we approach this change very sensitively. We actually explored a very wide range of options and when we stood back and looked from afar as well as looked close, we all unanimously gravitated toward the images that freed the siren from the word mark. We really took inspiration from companies like Nike where at one point they separated the word "Nike" from the "swoosh" in their logo. This allows us to bring our identity to life anytime and anywhere. You’ll see it as we apply it to our white cups that will be showing up in stores around the 40th anniversary.

Q: You’ll be breaking new advertising from BBDO in March. Will the messaging be built around the anniversary?

A: Clearly BBDO is a critical global partner which is very involved in the brand strategy that led to the new brand expression. We’ve worked side by side to create a comprehensive one voice/one feel to everything the brand does. While these anniversaries seem like a big thing internally, we found that our customers are not so concerned about it. So we may have a little nod to our 40th, but we’ll mostly be celebrating our partners, customers and the role of the brand going forward.  

Q: Will it incorporate new positioning, a new tagline or new creative?

A: You’ll see some of all of that involved. A lot will look fresh by putting the new identity with it. We have a pretty unique brand offering that in conjunction with our traditional media advertising, we can leverage our leadership in social media and digital. Three to four years ago, if you were writing about us, you wouldn’t have said we were a leading brand in social media and digital, but we’re now the No. 1 brand by a lot of sources. We’ve become a leader in social media and in the digital space, and with our Starbucks Rewards program we continue to grow in how we engage with customers. We have a million registered cardholders. So we have an ongoing conversation with consumers in social media and the digital space and with our cardholders.

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