Starbucks Hopes This Year’s Holiday Cups Will Serve as a ‘Messenger of Joy’

Seasonal beverages return to stores

starbucks cups
Continuing a tradition it began in 1997, Starbucks is once again introducing a new line of holiday cup designs and seasonal beverages to fill them. Starbucks
Headshot of Richard Collings

Pandemic or not, there are still a few things you can rely on with the arrival of the holiday season. One of those is the perennial Starbucks holiday cups, first introduced in 1997.

Since then, they have brought both cheer and, well, controversy. President Donald Trump once cited the cups as an example of the “war on Christmas.”

Whether or not this year’s cups pass the look test remains to be seen (though it may help that the U.S. and its denizens are currently preoccupied with, ahem, other matters).

Beginning tomorrow, customers in the U.S. and Canada will be greeted with one of four designs to celebrate the Yuletide, alternating between patterns such as polka dots, vintage sparkles or ribbons brought to life with festive colors, such a bright red and the brand’s signature green. (Two of the cups feature the campaign theme ‘Carry the Merry,’ which is a nod to or implies Christmas, without spelling it out directly.)

The thinking behind this year’s designs was that the cups would serve as messengers of joy,” Jeff Wilkson, Starbucks’ creative director, said in a statement: “We want to be that beacon for people, a brief moment that they can look forward to.”

“Early in our exploration, one of our designers had started making these little ribbons that almost looked like washi tape (a decorative, adhesive tape),” Wilkson added. “We had this one session where we were so inspired by these different patterns that we cut them out with scissors and started wrapping them in different ways on cups.”

In support of the unveiling of the new holiday cups, Starbucks will run a series of holiday ads, such as “The more the merrier,” featuring a snowman with his magical red scarf that reveals Starbucks holiday drinks in the midst of a snowfield with evergreen trees in the background. The ad ends with the tagline “Festive is a tap away,” referencing the coffee chain’s app.

The campaign design was led by Starbucks’ creative studio and the TV and digital ads were produced by Big Spaceship and The Mill.

Starbucks will air three fifteen-second spots across TV and digital video platforms on Nov. 5, and then through the holiday season it will feature six full-page insertions within weekly magazine publications. Digital display banners will be viewable on desktop and mobile environments, driving customers to the coffee chain’s app. A spokesperson added social media channels will go live across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter throughout the holiday season.

To fill those cups, Starbucks is returning seasonal favorites to its menu, including peppermint mocha, toasted white chocolate mocha, caramel brulee latte, chestnut praline latte and eggnog latte. The chain is also giving away a free collectible red holiday cup on Nov. 6 to those who order a holiday beverage at participating Starbucks locations in the U.S. while supplies last.

Starbucks is adding some new food items for the holidays, including a new cranberry orange scone, as well as the cranberry bliss bar, a sugar plum cheese danish, a snowman cookie and a snowman cake pop.

@RichCollings Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.