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S’Bux Cups Redux

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Photo: Starbucks News

A couple of weeks back (in the what seems like the long ago pre-election era), we wrote about the Starbucks green cups, designed by artist Shogo Ota using one continuous line to denote many people coming together as a symbol of unity. The ensuing uproar was a validation of the strength of the Starbucks brand to break through the clutter with something so simple as a paper coffee cup.

In an anxiously anticipated encore, Starbucks this week released its design of the company’s popular holiday cup. In 2015, Starbucks decided to issue a simple red cup with no other design. As the company explained it, “this year’s design is another way Starbucks is inviting customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas.” As with the green cup, this decision was not taken well by many, and the outcry was akin to the reaction to a child who was told there was no Santa Claus.

So now for the 2016 holiday season, the company came up with an ingenious solution – let consumers design the cups. According to Starbucks, it received more than 1,200 design submissions from which 13 (twelve hot cup and one cold cup) designs were chosen. The individuals picked represent a diverse group from a range of countries, demographics and careers. Interestingly, although it is not explicitly mentioned in any of the articles or press releases, all of the selected artists were female.

This was an effective move by Starbucks on many levels. By involving consumers in the process, it makes it difficult for them to oppose the design(s), particularly given the wide array of designs being used. In addition, each cup has a back story to it (click here), and there are enough of them to ensure that most can find at least one that tugs at their heartstrings.

The designs are, for the most part, traditional and devoid of any religious symbols (in keeping with previous Starbucks’ holiday cup designs), making them harmonious with the Starbucks brand personality of acceptance and neutrality. Finally, they allow Starbucks to realize last year’s idea of “inviting customers to create their own stories,” while also letting the artists tell those stories to a broad audience.

So, whether you’re a coffee, cappuccino, latte, tea, hot chocolate or cold drink imbiber, there’s a cup out there waiting for you.