When November rolls around, I dust off my winter parka and UGG boots and brace myself for months of cold. Regardless of when the winter weather hits, I can always count on the unveiling of Starbucks winter cup design in November. For the past 20 years, the return of the Starbucks holiday cup has marked the arrival of the winter season. However, 2015 marked the year of the Starbucks cup controversy. Consumers were shocked when a simple red ombré cup was revealed rather than its usual red cup with Christmas and holiday doodles. In this week’s Teak Talk we go back two years and take a look at how Starbucks handled the Christmas Cup Crisis of 2015 with public relation prowess.
Within the first 48 hours of red cups launching, a photo of the holiday cup was shared on Instagram every 14 seconds. The new design was chastised on social media for its simplicity and lack of holiday cheer. Social media personality Joshua Feurstein made a stink to his followers, calling this move a planned attack on Christianity and taking things a step farther by accusing the coffee chain of being just another overly politically correct corporation. As a public relations professional, this is a nightmare.
Don’t Wait- Jump to Action: Things unfold quickly. Starbucks released the holiday cups on November 1st, and within days the issue began dominating headlines. The poor holiday cup was thrust into the spotlight as the new symbol for a much larger issue at hand. Starbucks moved fast to respond through a series of public statements and used speed to get ahead of developing issues.
Starbucks vice president of Design & Content Jeffrey Fields released a statement on November 8th on behalf of the company, explaining the concept behind the seemly plain design. Starbucks quick and honest response was exactly what needed to be done in a moment of crisis. This being said, the response was timely but it was thoughtful. It is important to stay ahead of the news in a crisis, but it is even more important to make sure your statement is well thought out and addresses the issue at hand while staying true to the brand.
Stay True to the Brand: Starbucks took their defense one step further by tying the design all the way back to their core values- reminding its customers of its brand values and heart. Each statement transitioned back to the idea that Starbucks had the goal of creating a holiday design that invited customers to draw their own holiday story on the cup, rather than having one drawn for them.
“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Fields in an official Starbucks press release. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”
Know That It Will Soon Be Old News: We live in an age of a 24-hour news cycle, and it is only a matter of time before the next big scandal breaks. Starbucks stood by their decision to choose a holiday-neutral design and did not play into the rumors. They knew that this news would eventually be passed over, and considered old news. The brand loyalists stood behind Starbucks, and knew the good heart that was at the core of the company.
While the Christmas cup was a chilling controversy at the time, it is now news of the past. Starbucks handled the crisis with ease, and has made new news over time with each coming season’s holiday cup. This season take an extra peek at the cup that your coffee comes in, and think of the branding brain that lies behind that design.