Starbucks dumb down and over-sell their logo

Starbucks recently unveiled a new logo with quite a fanfare. The big news is that they have removed the word "coffee". The rationale is that they want the freedom to sell stuff other than just coffee.

The first issue is of course whether stretching beyond coffee or coffee-based products is smart. The challenge here will be to focus on areas where Starbucks can create a viable, profitable and sustainable business model. I've posted before on over-intellectual approaches to brand extension that focus on asking "can the brand stretch or not?". This is the wrong question. A brand like Starbucks is trusted enough and rich enough in imagery to do loads of different things. The right question is whether they can create a value concept that brings something new and distinctive to the market in question and then make, distribute and sell a product or service at a profit.

And now onto the new logo. Below you can see the evolution:

Screen shot 2011-04-07 at 11.16.18

Dumbed down?

Is it just me, or does this new logo not look like its over-simplified? The old one has more impact, and feels more complete somehow. OK, take off the word "coffee" if its limiting. But why take the brand name off as well? The design also over-promotes the slightly weird mermaid woman. And my guess is that the green and black colour circular "holding device" they've removed was also a visual equity that helped brand recognition.

There are precedents for the no-name logo. Apple have gone this route. They also removed the word describing their original product from their company name, "computer", back in 2007, as I posted on here. However, the Apple approach has some differences:

– An obvious one is that the symbol (apple) is the name of the company (apple), which is not the case for Starbucks

– The Apple logo is rarely used in isolation, but rather to accompany a product name, such as iPad.

– Apple products have the brand baked into the design – the logo is more a signature. Whereas with Starbucks the core product is much more generic looking: coffee in a white cup. So the logo is more important in branding the product.

Screen shot 2011-04-07 at 11.36.41


Whatever you think about the logo, its still just a logo. And its unlikely by itslef to change the fortunes of the company. Yet is was announced with a whole lot of hooha. Check out the video below of CEO Howard Shultz selling it as a big thing, or click here to watch it.

I like the comments made by a reader of the Dieline blog here, which sums up well the over-sell of the logo change:

"I had to smile at the video, don't corporate people justify very little. Here's how the conversation would have gone if discussed using everyday speak:

'We do more than just coffee now, reckon we should get rid of the word 'coffee'.
    Yeah, good idea boss! That way we are known as more than just a coffee company.
Cool, kill the word then, whilst you're at it, get rid of the word Starbucks too, lets go down the Nike route, everyone knows our logo now.
    Er, boss, it's 5.45.
Yeah, I know, but it'll take 5 mins on Illustrator. Make the Siren bigger, kill the words, oh and you better change the colour from black to green.
    Done it! I've emailed you the JPEG
Great, cheers fella, I'll put together the 400 page powerpoint to justify it in the morning!

In conclusion, if you are planning a logo change, think carefully about what you need to keep, add, loose and update. Refreshing what you have may be better than ditching some key elements. And remember that its still just a logo, and unless you really screw it up, it aint gonna change the world.