Cup Color Controversy


It may seem cruelly ironic to those of us living in the Northeast, where we are experiencing the coldest and snowiest portion of winter so far this year, but Starbucks has released its “first ever spring-themed hot beverage cups.” There are three pastel colors, green for a Starbucks “tall” beverage, blue for “grande” and yellow for the ubiquitous supersized “venti.” According to the Starbucks press release, “After the gray days of winter, there’s nothing quite like those first few bursts of color that indicate the arrival of springtime…” These limited time cups were introduced in participating Starbucks stores beginning March 16 and are available for “just a few days.” While a select number of cups apparently feature cute “hand-drawn” designs, the majority come with a plain white circle on it for consumers to leave as is or create their own art.

Now, you may be thinking, what in the world could be emotionally incendiary about some disposable paper coffee cups. But lest we forget:

1.This is Starbucks we are talking about

2.Starbucks’ seasonal coffee cups have generated controversy in the past – reference 2015’s plain red coffee cups without any Christmas symbols, which led many to accuse Starbucks of being anti-Christmas and 2016’s pre-holiday green cups, promoting inclusiveness and unity, which also had its critics

While many have commented favorably on the cups, some have noticed that the blank cups seem very similar to the default profile pictures assigned by Twitter to users (often Twitter trolls) who haven’t uploaded a profile picture. Still others say that rather than spring cups, they are really Easter cups (pastel colors, everyone), and question whether that’s inclusively appropriate.

Like ’em, hate ’em, they’re here now and they demonstrate the power of a very strong brand. In an ingenious way, Starbucks has leveraged what is typically a commoditized part of buying coffee, the paper cup, and made it an integral part of the coffee experience and brand reinforcement.