Starbucks Filters Its Logo
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the fact that our culture of coffee consumption today owes at least a little something to that giant multi-national corporation called Starbucks. The company that at one point in the 90’s was opening a new cafe every workday, is now present in 55 countries across 6 continents. Its ubiquitous green logo is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. So when the “world’s leading purveyor of the highest quality of coffee” decides to make a change to its identity, you know it’s time to find out more.
The company started out in Seattle in 1971 offering quality roasted beans from around the world. The name “Starbucks” is taken from the book Moby Dick in which Starbuck is the first mate on board the ship Peqoud. The logo they set up shop with was inspired by a 17th century Norse wood-cut print featuring a two-tailed mermaid in the centre of a circle, surrounded by the words “Starbucks Coffee and Tea” in a ring. In its next avatar, the brown ring was changed to green and the rather graphically represented, bare breasted mermaid took the form of a simplified, but still seductive half-woman figure of the Siren.
From the 90’s onwards when the company was expanding, Starbucks coffee cups carried the logo we have come to know it for: a close-up of the Siren within the green ring of text, navel edited out and only the vestiges of the tails remaining. Twenty years have passed since the creation of this image and yesterday Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz announced the next step in the logo’s evolution – a green image of the familiar Siren, no text anymore, not even the name of the company.
While some people seem to think that this is a bad idea for the brand, I beg to differ. In my opinion the new logo is clean and simple, well resolved in a graphic manner of speaking; it reacts well to the contours of a coffee cup and I quite like the way the white of the cup interacts with the green flowing forms of the Siren’s hair and tails. It definitely shouts out environment-friendly “GREEN” even as Starbucks is constantly trying to makeover their image as a planet-destroying, ecology-harming big-corp with their “ethical-local-global” responsibility programmes.
This is certainly an evolved logo and make no mistake, Starbucks’ in-house design team know exactly where they are going with this. The company is expanding to offer wines and food in some stores, with promises of more ventures just around the corner. Come Spring 2011, the brand is not just going to be about hot drinks anymore, and I imagine that this is the first step towards making its new offerings to the public.
As for the brand recall, before you say that new customers will no longer know the name of the coffeehouse with the green circle (some are already calling it “the coffeehouse once known as Starbucks”) you’ve got to consider that Starbucks’ biggest piece of branding next to the humble coffee cup is their coffeehouse. The facade of their coffeehouses always carries the name of the brand in bold green letters, but not always the logo. In fact, the logo is rarely the sign that coffee seekers follow to get to the cafe, and although the image of the Siren is associated with the brand, it does not stand in for the name of the brand. Given the importance of language in communicating the brand in a retail format, I doubt if they’re going to do away with the brand name at all. All they’ve changed then is the logo, and how the logo interacts (or doesn’t) with the words “Starbucks Coffee”.
On an entirely personal note though, I don’t really get the hype surrounding the Siren. I mean coffee, mermaids and seafaring ships are not concepts I would automatically put together to say “hot drink here”, but then it’s hard to argue with a 40 year old symbol of caffeination. Some brands are all about the story, and you either buy into the story or you don’t. I think the siren is beautiful but slightly meaningless, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t identify with her sense of mystery as you get your cuppa jo’ in the mornin’.
On another aside here, I simply could not resist sharing with you the fact that when Starbucks first launched in Saudi Arabia, the logo showed only the Siren’s crown and not her body: