Say Goodbye To Your Friend the PSL and Say Hello to Red Cup

So as most of you already know, a few weeks ago I presented on Starbucks and their social media presence.  Part of my presentation was all about the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) and how its hype during fall season was of major benefit to the Starbucks brand.  With the end of Halloween and the beginning of November, Starbucks finally transitioned into the Holiday season with the introduction of the new and improved Red Cups.  The Red Cups are not a a new thing for Starbucks.  In fact, they are actually an iconic part of the brand image.  Customers wait each year for these pretty red cups, with white tops, decorated with different designs such as snowflakes, ornaments and snowmen.  These cups symbolize the beginning of the holiday season as well as the introduction of speciality seasonal drinks such as peppermint and gingerbread lattes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.27.23 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.28.06 PM

This year, Starbucks decide to revamp the design of these cups, making them a solid color of red with the modern Starbucks logo on the front.  Starbucks’ vice president of design, Jeffery Fields, said that the company was aiming to focus on the “simplicity and quietness” of the holiday season.  Was this a ploy to gain media attention?  Was this Starbucks’ way of trying to stay relevant? Or was this merely Starbucks’ way of trying to modernize and neutralize their brand image?

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.26.50 PM

Unfortunately, this took a very happy time of the year and turned it sour for many customers.  People on social media started complaining that in doing this, Starbucks’ is completely failing to acknowledge the very sacred holiday of Christmas.  Christians have been tweeting at Starbucks completely enraged by this new design and claiming that it is “oppressive” and “insulting.”  Since when did snowflakes and snowmen automatically represent Christmas?  And aren’t the colors of the cup (red and green) representing the colors of Christmas anyway?  People today are constantly complaining that associations with anything “Christmas,” such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, etc. are inappropriate and politically incorrect to use when there are so many other religions and holidays that are celebrated in today’s society.  Therefore, why would the omission of “Christmas-like” symbols cause anger amongst customers?

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 8.30.21 PM

Soon after the “War on Christmas” with the Starbucks brand began, former ​pastor, Joshua Feuerstein, started a movement to “prank” Starbucks.  He created a video that inevitably went viral, encouraging customers to tell baristas that their names were “Merry Christmas.”  Therefore, the baristas would have to write “Merry Christmas” on their Red Cups.  He wanted people to then post pictures of these cups with “Merry Christmas” written on them and use the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks.  He thought that this was a good way to show some backlash on the organization? One problem. That requires giving Starbucks more business.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 8.32.19 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 8.59.35 PM

While many people also came out on social media to acknowledge that this entire “War on Christmas” was ridiculous and stupid, saying that there was no reason for people to be upset, many were still very angry with Starbucks. What are your thoughts on this?  Will you still be buying your seasonal drinks in Starbucks’ #RedCups??



  1. I was just as confused as you were when I found out about this crazy backlash. In such a concentrated market, most design ideas have already been used. I’m sure Starbucks’ minimalistic design was an attempt to stay classy and stand out with a bold, solid red cup. From a marketing perspective, I can’t help but wonder if any other color would have received such an outcry. They say red has the biggest impact on consumers, would these comments be any different if the cups were solid blue? Regardless, I think it’s silly that this is what people spend their time talking about on social media.

  2. I too thought this was blown out of proportion. They are still red, they are still out in time for Christmas. I think they are sleek, modern and elegant, and the ombre shade perfectly on trend. I think they wanted to differentiate these from past year’s and probably did not anticipate this much backlash. It goes back to what the 4:30PM section discussed last week – consumers can have strong feelings against change when they are not consulted. They want to feel like they are important and a part of the process. Perhaps Starbucks could have crowdsourced their holiday look. It would have definitely casted a good amount of attention and significantly cut down on the haters. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hello Sammy, nice post! I just read an article talking about how people react to Starbucks’ plain red cups on social media. ( To be honest, I really don’t think it’s an offense to christians anyway, and I’m sure that Starbucks doesn’t intend to offend them because the loss could be huge once it’s boycotted by all Christians. It makes sense to design such a plain red cup since simplicity happens to been the current trend of fashion. Maybe Starbucks just gets a little inspiration from that and decides to add some fashion elements to attract its customers.
    However, in my opinion, it’s more like a marketing ploy. Starbucks’ plain red cups has become a hot topic on social media and people, no matter like or dislike the cup, are talking about it. Even the movement started by Joshua Feuerstein against the design is actually bringing more businesses to Starbucks. See – a free advertisement with great benefit! Now I’m even skeptical that maybe this guy is an employee of Starbucks, haha! Thanks for this interesting topic!

  4. The outcry on this topic is pretty outlandish and I agree with @ngandia that a lot of the negative dialogue is probably related to the unexpected change. Starbucks has such a renowned, strong community and even just suggesting the proposal on their various social media platforms, including may have helped mitigate the “shock.” This then makes me question, are brands expected to involve customers at every stage of product design? I believe the answer is heading more and more to a definite yes. Customers are demanding more involvement and brands must be aware that traditional brand management is no longer the same in this era of digital and social. I did like how Starbucks responded to these conversations: the red cup is a “blank canvas that allows customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way.” Thanks for sharing this topic.

  5. …and here I am making jokes about “premature Christmas celebrations”.. haha. From a fellow Starbucks fan’s perspective, I definitely think people are overreacting on this. The Asian part of me tends to think anything red+green screams Merry Christmas, and the graphic designer part of me actually really appreciates the minimal design. But of course, that’s just me. To take a critical look at this issue as a business student, I think this only shows that for brands with a huge loyal customer base, the reward comes with a risk too. Customers are getting more and more entitled of their opinions and they are getting very vocal on social media. By welcoming feedback and conversations, brands are also giving up a big part of their control over their brand image. For brands with a broad customer base, this means no matter what they do, opposing voices will always occur. Before making any new attempt, it’s important for brands to anticipate potential backlash and the risk of their negative and come up with proper plans to address the issue.

  6. I think this is another great example of how people utilize social media to make a small problem very large! Before twitter and Facebook made it so easy for customers to reach out to brands, this “red cup” outcry would have received very little attention. SM has played a large role in facilitating conversation between consumers and companies, which has had both positive and negative implications. As Professor Kane has proved, it’s the most efficient way to complain to airlines or as we’ve experienced during snack time get free food! On the whole, this increase in dialogue has proved to be beneficial to brands. The “negative” reviews Starbucks is receiving for their Starbucks is un doubtably increasing awareness about their Red Cups and could potentially boosted sales. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press.

  7. Ah, I was going to write a blog post on this! Better come up with something else haha. But this a great post and a lot of what you mentioned is very true. For example, you brought up a good point that this “prank” to tell Starbucks employees their name is “Merry Christmas” actually brings Starbucks a lot more business. And @lakyaks‘ question of whether brands will come to involve customers in regards to every detail of product design is also good to think about. I agree that the answer would be yes because no matter what the brand’s intention was, customers can turn an innocent change into a huge deal. I personally did like the previous cups better just because it had cool designs and made the cups seem more exciting, but people’s outrageous reactions to the change make no sense to me and I am honestly perplexed as to why these people are investing so much time to complain about it and why they are taking such a personal offense to it. I think we should all just take a deep breath and eat some cake pops.

  8. When I saw the outrage this “controversy” was causing, I just sighed out of pure frustration. First of all, in my personal opinion, the downright fanatical fandom associated with Starbucks is something I will never fully understand. It’s a cup of coffee, and an expensive one at that with a taste that is way too bitter in my opinion. Second of all, it’s a little cup. I’m sure that Starbucks isn’t out to destroy the religious symbols of Christianity or Christmas by making the cups solid red, I personally think it’s a good brand move because it streamlines the look without losing the spirit. I’m sure this will blow over soon, but the controversy this has caused is something I really wish would just not happen.

  9. I think people are just picking something to get upset about. I didn’t even notice that the new red cups didn’t have any holiday/Christmas imagery on it. I did, however, notice the new #RedCup emoji that’s been all over twitter. @shapirobenjamin is right – Starbucks isn’t trying to destroy religious symbols. They have tons of Christmas-related products available in stores, including new advent calendars and Christmas-blend coffee. Either way, Starbucks probably won’t lose any sales over it… and if they do, then the hype they’ve received on social media should more than make up for it.

  10. I agree with the other comments, people are blowing this out of proportion. When i saw the red cups in the store I was very excited. I think the cups are visually appealing and create a bold statement. They stick out in pictures and are visually appealing. The ombre effect is one that is trending this year and I think a good choice. If Starbucks made their cups with lots of Christmas symbols I am sure some would be upset too.
    I think Starbucks should turn this situation around, by holding a cup design contest. Customers could decorate their cups and tweet, instagram, and facebook their products with a certain hashtag. This would generate a lot of good press about the company, it would also be a fun activity.

  11. Sammy, really loved reading your post. Starbucks red cups have been the talk of everyone on all social media platforms these days. Everywhere I went people were talking about these cups too. It is very interesting to see how much innovation and uniqueness people expect from Starbucks these days. Starbucks has for long been the leader, especially during holidays and special seasons. I honestly liked the simple cups for a change. These cups allow people to reflect and imagine whatever they feel like, when related to christmas season., But I do agree that the cups were not very well aligned with Starbucks’ initial design efforts. People expect more energy in design, and more colorful offerings. People have though taken it too far. They felt it was an insult, and looked too deep into it. It doesn’t need that much, but I am looking to see how Starbucks will manage that buzz now. Will they offer new Starbuck cups designs? Will they do something after seeing customer reactions. Will they offer discounts to let people come back to them again. Lets wait and See. Thank you for choosing this topic, and for posting snaps on people’s reactions. I love your posts and look forward for them every week. Good Job!

  12. Been following this one. Seems more like an engineered backlash than a genuine. Heard plenty of stories about it, but not that many people actually seem that upset.

  13. I have seen a lot of opinions about this on the Twitter world lately. Someone posted a picture of the evolution of the Starbucks cup over the years, and it really showed us how much they have simplified their design during holiday season. Personally, I think it’s pretty ridiculous that people are actually offended by this transformation. It seems like one of those things where people just want to have something to complain about, and its being made a way bigger deal than it is.

  14. Although I too was upset to find out the decorative red Starbucks are now simply a solid color, I think people have definitely blown this out of proportion. Firstly I don’t think snowflakes and Christmas trees simultaneously represent Christmas, however they reflect the holiday season. I think customers are taking Starbucks’ decision to neutralize their cups too personally. Similarly in recent news Macy’s has made statement that they are not putting up christmas decoration until after thanksgiving as they are trying to celebrate “one holiday at a time”. Similarly they received backlash from customers, its crazy to see what the holidays will do to people.

%d bloggers like this: