Won Over by the Queen of all Sirens


Last week Starbucks introduced a significant logo change, dropping the word “coffee” and, even more dramatically, the company name from its mark. Needless to say, it’s a bold gambit to join the pantheon of iconic brands that have faith we know who they are and what they represent.

It’s interesting to analyze the soft launch of Starbucks against the clumsy logo spill of Gap last fall. In contrast to this tightly mapped, strategically driven change from Starbucks, Gap approached its brand evolution as a pure design exercise, not as a strategic repositioning exercise. By all accounts, Gap was careless in the introduction, clearly underestimated consumer interest and, in the end scuttled their new logo.

Starbucks has taken a different tack with a carefully plotted course supportive of product growth and global expansion. It reinforces a brand strategy that is expanding the meaning of Starbucks beyond coffee to its own unique blend of “Experience and Place.”

In this light, jettisoning the word “coffee” from the logo is a no-brainer. 

Starbucks’ global business strategy rests upon far more than coffee. It has already expanded into tea, ice cream, breakfast and lunch foods, music, and grinding and brewing contraptions—all under an umbrella of fair trade practices. This brand, however, is not about what it does, but rather how it does it and to what end. The ultimate Starbucks promise is companionship, reverie and discovery, wrapped up in the sensations of smell and sound that ultimately define the total brand experience.

Dropping the Starbucks name from the logo must have brewed a scalding debate and could only have happened with the close involvement of the CEO. In fact, according to Starbucks marketing svp Terry Davenport, the initiative actually originated with Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz, who made a return to the company in 2008 after an eight-year hiatus.

As a designer I can attest to how extremely difficult it is to smoothly blend color, name, category and mascot into a simple shape and create a proprietary and memorable logo that is easily applied to just about anything in any medium. So purely from a graphic design perspective, the prior Starbucks logo is a masterpiece of efficiency.

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