Say what, Starbucks?

Post Date: January 6th, 2011

One of these things is not like the other?

One of these things is not like the other?

Starbucks Chairman, President and CEO Harold Schultz just sent me an email showing the company’s updated logo. Mind you, all they did was remove the word circle that says Starbucks Coffee and change the color of the mermaid–oh, wait, he called her a siren–from black to green.

Why the change?  “Our new brand expression [he means logo] reflects our evolving freedom and flexibility to serve and connect with our customers in meaningful ways while continuing to represent the integrity, quality and consistency of the Starbucks Experience,” his email said.

Huh? Blah. Blah. Blah.

I don’t drink coffee, yet I adore Starbucks. Well, their iced, venti, unsweetened, no added water, black tea, anyway. Here’s how I wish he’d described the new logo launch, and I have a sneaky feeling my version is closer to the truth, too.


“Starbucks turns 40 this year. Our logo is almost 20 years old. It’s tired. We’re tired of looking at it, and we figure you might be, too. So we’ve simplified and freshened it up a bit. We love it and hope you do, too.”

One of my favorite books on branding is A New Brand World, by Scott Bedbury, who was senior vice president of marketing at Starbucks from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that he spent 7 years as head of advertising for Nike, where he launched the “Bo Knows” and “Just Do It” campaigns.


I know Scott would have handled the new Starbucks logo differently. Do you remember what the smallest cup size used to be called? A Short. It’s now called a Tall, with medium being Grande and large is a Venti. Starbucks decided that if they’re going to charge that much money for a small cup of coffee, customers would feel better ordering a Tall. Hence the change in semantics.


Well, when it came time to launch the new lingo, Scott had a great idea for the announcement: Starbucks Drops Its Shorts! No, the Powers That Be wouldn’t let him do it. But you gotta admit, it’s a whole lot clearer (and more clever) than the new logo’s corporate-speak.


Have you heard any good ones lately? I would love to add to my Say What? collection of convoluted corporate babble. Please comment and share your examples here.

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10 Responses to “Say what, Starbucks?”

  1. As a consumer and a creative director, I have to disagree with you here, Terri. Never before have I actually noticed the woman in the circle and this new iteration invites me to connect with her/my inner goddess. Seriously, that is what my subconscious is doing. Logos are all about effecting the subconscious, so our reasonable minds are not likely to appreciate the nuances.

    • Thank you for your comment Jodie. I have no quibble with the change, and I’m all for the guts it took to remove the company name and go with just the siren. What you said about the logo and what it means to you is better stated and more authentic than the corporate statement. I just wish Starbucks could have been more conversational and true to their comfortable, neighborhood brand in their email to customers who already know and love them.

  2. Wendy Naarup says:

    Terri, I loved this post. I never noticed the woman before either but now she looks frightened…must be the price she just paid for a “tall” short cup of coffee. My favorite part of the message was your suggestion…“Starbucks turns 40 this year. Our logo is almost 20 years old. It’s tired. We’re tired of looking at it, and we figure you might be, too. So we’ve simplified and freshened it up a bit. We love it and hope you do, too.”

    How great is that?!

    • Well, Wendy, I must confess. After decades on the agency side of brand building and identity, I was the “suit” working with client. The creative team would do amazing work, but I knew that clients want rationale and reasons for everything. So the creative team and I would work up answers to the “what if they ask this…?” questions. “What if they ask ‘why blue?’?” (Is that punctuation correct?) The creative team quipped, “Because we tried other colors and like blue.” I can’t say that. So we’d come up with psychology of color arguments, even feng shui for a wellness client. The topper? I presented a compete corporate identity system and the HR Director asked, “How does that typeface reflect the tribalistic value system of our employees?” I can count on two hands the number of times I was rendered speechless, and that’s one of ‘em. Thanks for subscribing and commenting, Wendy.

  3. Deb Spicer says:

    My favorite of all time was during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. The short version is someone committed suicide by jumping in front of the MARTA train in downtown Atlanta.

    The corporate statement made by their PR person was, “An unauthorized person made unauthorized contact with the train.”

    Fifteen years later, I remember that one!

  4. Terri, fabulous observation and post! I have been thinking along Scott’s line of creativity for my spring dress promotion:

    “Drop your pants…and put on a dress!”

    Of course, this headline screams out for a great visual…you know, pants around the ankles kinda thing.

    Keep up the terrific blog posts. Never miss them.

    Michael Weintraub
    YOUR Dress Concierge

    • Come on, Michael. I dare ya! Great to see your comment. And ladies, if you are anywhere near southern California or visiting, there is no better place than Dressed Up to buy that head-turning, OMG-where-did-you-get-that gorgeous [fill in the blank]. And no matter how tempted you are to tell your admirer what a steal the price was, you are hereby ordered to just beam and say, “Thank you!.”

  5. Shea Ellison says:

    Terri,

    I’ve been a Starbucks ‘addict’ for years… I have ‘radar’ to finding their stores wherever I travel. I used to be a big mocha drinker, but too much fat and calories – not to mention becoming lactose intolerant… Now I’ve found the best deal – not on the menu… ‘mocha water’ – no coffee, no expresso… just mocha syrup & water – $0.50 + tax!! What a deal.

    Anyway, I think it’s a HUGE mistake to drop the name from the logo. Although they are well known today, as one of your other commenters stated, they never even noticed the woman in the center.

    Changing from two colors to only one is another BIG mistake in my opinion. It’s a move in the wrong direction – from cool to bland.

    I’m designing a new logo right now for a new company, and the color, graphics and text are all essential components. Very few companies can get away with graphics alone – no text. It takes deep pockets and a lot of exposure and… time to establish a graphic-only logo.

    Love your suggested campaign announcement – “Starbucks Drop it’s Shorts’… that’s not blah. Then I like Michael’s idea ‘…and put on a dress’ – more appropriate for a ‘siren’. And if that’s a ‘siren’ you could of fooled me… If they want to call that graphic of a woman a ‘siren’, they need to communicate that more directly. If they leave it up to most people – they’ll never get it.

    Great job. I love reading your slant on marketing. You’re right in that most marketing is forgettable. It needs to be more conversational to reach real people.

    Shea Ellison
    First Community Wellness Network

  6. [...] out Terri’s post here and be sure and sign up for her March 23 webinar on How to Stand Out From the Competition and Rent [...]

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Terri Langhans

Terri Langhans, CSP, COE
Certified Speaking Professional
Chief of Everything
Blah Blah Blah Etc., Inc.


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