Saturday, January 29, 2011


Starbucks Logos Past and Present

Starbucks Logos Future?

Thanks to my favorite librarian for sharing Steve Heller's NY Times article about branding changes for the world's largest coffee company. To mark its 40th anniversary in March, the Starbucks logo will be a zoomed-in image of the mermaid (Howard Shultz calls her the "siren") that is even a bit more abstracted than the desexing she underwent in 1992. More dramatic, however, is the decision to remove the neat-line circles and text that currently envelop the siren. Shultz is counting on the single color and the abstracted figure both to trigger recognition and to free the company from associations that are limited to coffee.

The Times included a visual witticism (shown above) from blogger Felipe Torres, whose progression of abstractions begin with one in which the siren might be mistaken for Lady Godiva, on the way toward the ultimate abstraction of a green disk. As Heller notes, some companies have come to regret tinkering with their logos. Starbucks is contemplating a change that will only work if the existing logo already had a high level of recognition. Given the ubiquity of the company, I actually doubt that dropping the words will make much difference, as people see a vaguely familiar form, most often in places that are also familiar.

The announcement comes as Starbucks enjoyed a significant increase in profits, to a record $346.6 million in the most recent quarter. Given strong growth in revenue -- to $3,000,000,000 for the quarter -- some analysts thought that the profits could have been even higher, but cited rising prices for commodity coffee as a limitation. I remember from my days in the food industry that even a small shift in unit prices for our inputs would make a difference in our financial performance, and that certainly is true for Starbucks. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that spending on  coffee remains relatively modest compared the size of the company. In 2009, for example, the company spent about $500,000,000 on coffee. That makes it one of the world's largest buyers of coffee, but still represents well under 1/10 of total revenues.

PS: Thanks to my friend Julia for mentioning an obvious omission in this post. Independent coffee shops are usually better! My Geography of Coffee Shoppes mentions (and maps) a few dozen that my students and I have enjoyed. (And yes, I assign students to find me coffee shops!)

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