Starbucks' Solo Red Cup

Nov 11, 2015

Why Starbucks' 2015 Holiday Cups are a Win for the big coffee giant.

Amidst all the noise in this world, the best thing a brand can do is to quiet down, listen, and stoically make a statement that is powerful, humbling, and bold. And as big as a corporation Starbucks is, all of the buzz about a boring red cup is actually quite enthralling to me.

Not often do you find coffee in my hand let alone Starbucks. And especially not holding a cup that is a deep crimson red color. As I hold this simple red cup filled with an overly sugary Short Peppermint Mocha Latte, I can’t help to think just how freeing and powerful it is. I stare at it, and it stares back. I look at it, and I see a sea of red. A simple, passionate red color that can go on forever and simply exist as it is. Gently holding my coffee as I grip it. Multiply this small red cup by the thousands and suddenly you have an sea—a massive force of people carrying red cups to adorn your brand among the white snowfall of winter. It’s a simple, powerful, message that is instantly recognizable and free of any cultural symbolism to associate itself with.

Starbucks knew just what they were getting into before they chose to set sail on a sea of red. When they released the barren red cup, the internet was [fittingly] set ablaze about it’s choice for the most boring cup—for lack of a better word—this holiday season has ever seen. Gone are the cliche, kitschy, and symbolic holiday icons which it would seem so many people miss. When I asked the Starbucks employee just what she thought after I bought my latte, she said, “people complain it doesn’t look festive enough”. She’s right. With all of the iconic fluff stripped away, it becomes a plain red cup. But that’s just it’s intent. Right? You have a giant coffee corporation that decides to throw out all associations and imagery from anything remotely connected to a feeling “festive” or a familiar reminder that we are entering into the holiday season. Naturally, anytime there is such a pivot, there is going to be backlash. However, this is where I’d like to think the imagination can be set free. And for once people can enjoy their coffee interpretting what it can become, or maybe what Starbucks wants it to become.

Over the years, they have become quite good at creating “festive” inspirational designs that are not overtly sensitive to any one culture or belief. Doing a quick Google search on Starbucks Christmas cups, and you will find most of them are filled with beautifully crafted symbols and illustrations. From 2011-2014, Starbucks has done a fantastic job bringing about a style that is festive and fun.

From Elegant to Empty

For example, the elegant curves of a fox, or a simple person singing, arranged with minimal shapes and colors is quite pleasing to look at. Simple in it’s nature, but not overly complicated. However, it’s not surprising that such a change in a regimented style might be shocking or jolting to some people compared to the imagery that came before. The emptiness of a red cup adorning a proud logo holding your coffee is so far removed from the usual that people aren’t giving it a chance. In a culture so saturated with images and icons of Christmas, the Holidays, and “tis the season” sayings every five seconds, that we often forget just what it personally means to each of us.

There is always a time and a place for a quaint snowflake, or a cheery caroler. However, I can’t help but admire just how brilliant a simple red is. Any conotation put on it be it negative or positive buzz, it’s getting talked about. It gives me and unconsciously many other people, an open passionate thought—free of anything else but coffee, or whatever you want it to be. Cheers to you starbucks.