Behind Starbucks' Cup Cleanup

Coffee Chain's Throwback Logo Riles Critics in Spite of Effort to Preserve Siren's Modesty

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- "Are you kiddin' me? This is a mythological creature," said Stanley Hainsworth, former VP-global creative at Starbucks, when asked whether Starbucks was trying to nab headlines by reintroducing its original logo, which features a topless mermaid. "We wanted to be invisible. We wanted the conversation to be about coffee, not about anatomy."

original Starbucks logo
Pikes Place redesigned logo

Before and after: The Starbucks siren's hair didn't cover her breasts until after a recent redesign (bottom).

So much so, in fact, that in working on the logo redesign, Mr. Hainsworth's team went so far as to look for euphemisms for the body part, because not everyone was comfortable hearing or saying the word "nipples" at work.

All of this, of course, points to the fact that Starbucks wasn't unaware its cup might runneth over with controversy when it brought back the old logo to introduce its Pike Place blend.

Company executives first planned to release the old logo nationwide as part of is 35th anniversary. But concerns about how a topless, two-tailed siren would play in rural areas led the company to limit its release to the Northwest. No matter: One Washington school district banned Starbucks coffee cups during the limited-time offer -- unless students concealed the creature's breasts with a cupholder.

"When we had our 35th-anniversary celebration in 2006, we used the old logo and the unmodified version, and we did get feedback about it," said Starbucks spokeswoman Bridget Baker.

Drawing attention away
So for this second go-round, Starbucks "modified it in a way that would address the concerns that we heard from customers in 2006," she said.

The siren's hair was draped over her breasts to conceal the nipples. The team also streamlined the siren's midriff, softened her expression, lengthened the hair and generally "cleaned up the design." The real goal, however, was to make the changes imperceptible.

But they got noticed, of course.

The logo redesign handed a publicity cudgel to a fringe Christian organization with just 3,000 members, some of whom took issue with what they saw as sexual connotations. Earlier this month, the group and its media-savvy leader got news outlets predictably lined up to discuss its outrage.

"If you make a comment about the Starbucks logo, it goes all over the news. It's a fascinating phenomenon," said Mark Dice, a 30-year-old Wisconsin native who fronts the Resistance Manifesto. The organization's home page lists the founder's many media appearances, including "The O'Reilly Factor," the London Telegraph and Pakistan's Daily Times.

Striking a nerve
Mr. Dice said he's been overwhelmed with the response. He said he's gotten his share of hate mail, but has also managed to expand his mailing list, and participation in his online forum is up. He declined to say by how much.

"We've made points on various issues but nothing has gotten the exposure of this," Mr. Dice said. "This one took off and went viral." (The organization asserts, among other things, that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were part of a government conspiracy and that Duke University should change the name of its mascot, the Blue Devil, to something that's not offensive to Christians.)

Starbucks long has had a reputation as an organization with strong moral conviction. The chain touts its practice of improving conditions of coffee farmers in developing countries, and once banned the Bruce Springsteen album "Devils and Dust" when one track was deemed too sexually explicit.

Adding to the frustration at Starbucks is the widespread misperception that the logo change is permanent. The Pike Place cups will only be in circulation for a few more weeks.
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