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Remember the classic red Christmas themed cups that Starbucks has been known for every holiday season with the snowflakes, trees, reindeer, and other holiday imagery? This year, the coffee chain has removed all of that in favor of a more simplistic solid red design for the cups. In response to this decision, a new Hashtag has spread online called #MerryChristmasStarbucks sparked by a video of an Arizona pastor encouraging people to say that their name is “Merry Christmas” when they order coffee so that the baristas will be forced to write that on the plain cups. The movement has gone viral with people posting picture of the cups with “Merry Christmas” written on it. Ellen Degeneres has even discussed it on her show, referring to it as #CupGate2015.

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Image Courtesy of Flickr User Esparta Palma

According to an article in the Atlantic Journal Constitution, social media is rather divided on the issue. On the one hand, a large group of Christian “pro-Christmas” supporters upset over the design decision see Starbucks’ supposed effort to be more inclusive of holiday beliefs as more of a politically correct ploy. Some extreme evangelicals in the group have gone so far to say that Starbucks “hates Jesus.” However, a designer for the company has said that they “wanted to usher in the purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.” In other words, they want to include all holiday beliefs within their design instead of limiting it to Christmas.

This is not the first time that Starbucks has been involved in a social campaign, although last time they were the ones spearheading the effort. The company previously had their own social media campaign where they would write #racetogether on people’s coffees in order to create a discussion on race relations in the United States and bring that conversation online. During the time of the campaign, a number of racial incidences had been occurring in the United States such as the protests over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the general issue of police brutality towards blacks. However, the company eventually ended the campaign because, among other reasons, many critics accused the company of using racial tensions in order to sell coffee. While the idea to create discussion may have been commendable, the logistics of forcing a political agenda onto customers who just want to buy their morning coffee did not succeed in the way Starbucks had hoped. With regards to this current design change, has Starbucks created a commendable way to include different beliefs within their holiday marketing or just an unnecessary political ploy to sell coffee by appealing to the liberals who will applaud their decision?

Whatever the reason for Starbucks’ design change, the #MerryChristmasStarbucks movement seems like a bit of an overreaction considering the circumstances. Many who support Starbucks’ decision call the critics “pointless conservative Christian martyrs” or something of the sort. However, the #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign does point out a larger societal issue through a rather unneeded movement. Christmas has gone from a religious holiday to a consumerist season that even many non-Christians celebrate today. Additionally, many liberal movements throughout the United States in recent years have attempted to turn “freedom of religion” into “freedom from religion,” so it is important to understand where these Christians are coming from rather than just dismissing them all as crazy evangelical conservatives. However, protesting over this minuscule design decision will not solve any of those larger problems.

Whether you agree with the #MerryChristmasStarbucks movement or not, the company seems to be taking the wrong approach by eliminating all holiday imagery on their cups. The classic Christmas cups were something that people had become accustomed to each year. Perhaps they should have created a new cup that was similar to the Christmas themed one but instead included Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and general holiday imagery in order to make everyone happy instead of no one. That being said, the #MerryChristmasStarbucks movement does not really solve anything.

Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr User aki sato

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One thought on “Starbucks Cup Controversy: Commendable Effort or Political Ploy?

  1. Hi Drew,

    Thought your article was really thought provoking. I read an article today that named Starbucks as the officially “greenest” company in the world. It now has 700 LEED certified stores and plans to continue this trend. I think it’s a valiant effort by Starbucks to put itself into social issues—whether it be for racial discussions, religious, or environmental.

    Though I think it is also beneficial for Starbucks to address these issues in subtle marketing campaigns to garner more media attention and increase sales, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Starbucks is so popular that regardless it’s going to make money, and regardless will have popular advertising campaigns. The fact that a company wields so much influence on a younger generation today and uses social media to address social issues is something really amazing.

    In public policy, there are a lot of debates whether big conglomerates have a social responsibility to stay green or address certain issues, etc. and I think Starbucks is a great example of the positives of joining movements. Not only does it give the company a good name, it also positively affects those involved.

    Furthermore, it’s rather saddening that Starbucks changing its cup to just red accumulated so much attention. People are going to throw away these cups after they use them anyway, so what’s with all the Internet fighting? Perhaps when a company grows as large as Starbucks, it becomes socially relevant and transcends traditional marketing into actual personable branding.

    The advertising landscape has been changing recently with the rise of social media, and to see companies become more “person” brands, reaching out to people and having an actual impact is quite impressive, and this outcry for a return to the old Starbucks cups just solidifies this theory. People have become attached to brands on a symbolic level, and that’s the magic of social media. Do I think it’s ridiculous everyone is freaking out over a Starbucks cup? Yes. Is it important to reflect on why they’re doing so? Probably. This isn’t just a cup thing anymore, it’s a socio-cultural phenomenon that just manifested itself in an aesthetically pleasing red cup.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how other companies begin to use this personal branding method to attract customers and create relationships with them.

    Thanks for writing this article!

    –Tammy

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