Starbucks: Brand arrogance?

18 04 2011

Grab a pen and a bit of paper. Close your eyes, imagine the smell of coffee, and then take this test: draw for me the Starbucks logo… No cheating.

Now why not take a photo of your attempt, upload it, and let’s see how you got on.

I’m curious, because to be honest I don’t think I could do that. I drink a reasonable amount of Starbucks (Don’t judge me. It’s not my ideal choice… give me Monmouth any day!) and living in central London I pass one about every 20 seconds, but I don’t think I could accurately draw their logo for you, not in detail anyway.

Yet recently Starbucks have decided to rebrand, removing the words ‘Starbucks Coffee’ from their logo, which led me to wonder ‘what else is there to their logo’? I mean, I kind of know roughly; there’s a woman in a circle, but I don’t think I could really tell you any of her features. In case you’re wondering, here’s what she looks like.

So the fact that Starbucks feels they can dispense of all language and still be recognisable to me seems a little arrogant… or perhaps I should say premature. There comes a point, I think, when a brand has become so established that the company earns the right to drop words. It’s like a right of passage. Aztecs captured and killed things, Jews have a Bar Mitzvah, companies demonstrate their coming of age by refusing to formally introduce themselves, expecting the world to guess.

And some companies pull it off with aplomb. Check this out, it’s a huge poster from the Oxford Street:

What’s fascinating about this is its simplicity and its assumed knowledge. There is no hint as to who those four random guys are, no explanation for that little fruit symbol, and no description of what iTunes is or where one might go about finding it. But we understand it perfectly well… at least I assume you did?

Were Apple and the Beatles less well known, this poster would be the height of arrogance, but somehow it works. And I’m sure there is a difference between a brand being recognisable and memorable. To be honest, if I tried to draw the Apple logo from memory now, I might struggle to know which way the stalk pointed… But that aside, the details stick nicely in my memory in a way that the mermaid queen with freaky striped arms doesn’t. Outside of the context of a coffee mug, or a shop front display, I’m not 100% sure I would recognise the Starbucks logo, whereas I’m pretty certain that I could see the Apple logo in any context (printed on toilet paper or cross-stitched on a granny’s doily?) and recognise it instantly.

At the end of the day it makes little difference… I doubt they’ll lose many sales over it. But for all its ubiquity, I’m just not certain that Starbucks’ logo is quite as familiar to us in the UK as they might think.

If nothing else, that fills me with a little bit of joy and hope for the future of coffee.

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