The Marketing Doctor Says:

Starbucks – How Not To Do Logos 


Folks, I find the latest Starbucks logo move astounding!  A little while back I posted on how Starbucks seemed to be making some smart branding decisions to revive its brand and get back to basics (see that post here).  Overall, I’ve been very impressed by this company’s marketing strategy in the face of a slowing economy and fierce competition and maybe that’s why I’m so surprised by this because it looks like a major misstep…  So, here’s the story:

There’s been a lot of controversy over the re-introduction of the original Starbucks logo (above left) (these images are courtesy Deadprogrammerscafe which does a great history of the logo’s development).  Because of what is seen as this logo’s provocative image of a Siren, one group has labeled the coffee company “Slutbucks” (here’s one take on this story).  Not a good thing!

The re-introduction of the original logo (actually a slight modification of the original) was part of their “Back to Basics” campaign.  Back to basics, as I wrote, was a great idea but one thing that I find myself telling clients again and again is every element of a Brandover (which is what “Back to Basics” really is) must be carefully thought out and tested.  And one of the most important elements of any brand is the logo –it is perhaps the most important element after the product or service itself! 

And this is the problem with the current Starbucks logo –it’s only temporary!  That’s right, the “new” logo will only be in circulation for a few weeks more.  Wow, what a bad way to treat a logo!  For starters, it totally disregards frequency, the time-honored marketing principle that underscores all the others –the more a consumer sees a logo or product name the more they will purchase that product!  Once a company arrives at a logo that works then small changes and updates are fine but any major overhaul has got to be avoided or only undertaken after the most serious kind of market research.  One of the reasons for this is made clear by what’s happened to Starbucks.  I’m not going to take a position on the current controversy but clearly the logo that emerged as the company grew and prospered worked with its target market and without controversy –in other words there was a sound marketing reality behind the evolution of the logo!

Another reason for not playing around with logos like this: consumers don’t think of logos as temporary things.  In other words, it’s a big mistake to expect your target market to be as apprised of your current marketing campaign as you are and expect them to know that your logo change is temporary!  When the marketing message gets too complicated, it’s doomed to fail.  The best logos express the brand simply and effectively and remind the consumer of the brand’s consistency and likeability… and they stay the same over the years anchoring the target market to the brand even as innovations and improvements occur.  Yes, folks, once again less (tinkering) is definitely more!

Finally, as the Marketing Doctor likes to say: any changes you make must be tested with your target market!  And here’s the kicker with the Starbucks logo, two years ago they did a rollout in honor of their 35th anniversary in Washington and Oregon (not nationwide) and ran into guess what— a similar controversy.  Really, what are they thinking?  Stay tuned. 

So, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing in mind.


Your logo is an integral part of your brand. Once you get it right then be very, very careful about changing it!


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