Speechless: Or Why Starbucks’ Wordless Logo Is No Nike or Apple


Here’s a test: Is your logo so distinctive that it can be recognized upside down? We ask in light of last week’s logo flap: the evolution of the Starbucks logo that will the brand’s 40th anniversary in March. We challenged the wisdom of abandoning the well-known mark, with its black and green color scheme, in favor of a logo element (the two-tailed siren mermaid) that few casual observers (ie the public) connects to Starbucks.

A number of our readers posted comments cheering the new logo, with some complimenting the brand’s move to “set the siren free” and others noting that the new logo will “carry this iconic brand across markets and into the future.” The latter comment was built on by others who saw the redesign as a move akin to Apple, Nike, Target or Mercedes, intended to separate the logo elements from the name itself.  In fact, the comment thread from our original piece, including observations such as how the green logo will work on a green apron, was as good a look at the debate as anywhere else.

But what about anywhere else? From outside the brandchannel bubble, here’s a look at the more intriguing and worthwhile aberrations about the new Starbucks logo. Plus, a reason the new logo is, and never will be, a Nike or Apple. [more]

The New York Times goes the “fear of change” route, saying, “Trademarks and logos are so integrally linked to our daily lives that any tinkering with the familiar is suspect — and to be avoided.” It concludes, “The rock star known as Prince replaced his name with a symbol. Maybe Starbucks is the rock star of coffees.” (It does not note that Prince was universally derided for this move.)

The Vancouver Sun echos some of our readers, noting that it could be angling for Asia expansion. It credits a Rice University professor, saying, “When angular logos are changed to rounded logos, they become more acceptable in interdependent and collectivist cultures such as India and China than in Western countries which tend to have a more independent or individualistic culture… removing the band of lettering makes the Starbucks logo look more rounded.” So removing the circle makes the logo more rounded? Say whaaaaa?

BC parent Interbrand examines the logo and mostly likes what it sees. It does however raise the interesting question of how odd the logo launch itself was: “Generally rebrands are announced via broadcast advertising or in print; unveiling a new logo is usually a part of a major media spend. But Starbucks has historically avoided mass media advertising — so its online video announcement was true to its established communication style. And what’s uniquely savvy about this launch is the amount of explanation around the rationale for the rebrand.”

The Harvard Business Review calls the old logo “limiting baggage” and then goes on to dismiss the “green surrounding donut” as “hardly a protectable device” whose elimination will now leave knock-off cafes worldwide wondering “what visual vernacular is left to steal,” which is a little like protecting yourself from being ripped off by being broke. See, Starbucks is protecting its logo’s visual identity by adapting a logo with a visual identity too unclear to be able to counterfeit. Genius.

The idea that the mermaid is female, and that 40 is now “old,” may be behind the incredible number of media around the web that chose to use “facelift” in their headlines:

Of course, it should be noted that we aso went with an aged analogy (“mid-life crisis”).

Finally, the Guardian agrees with some commentors about Starbucks itching to join the no-name “big leagues” with Apple and Nike. Ad Age goes this route too, mentioning Apple and Nike and noting that the new logo is part of a trend toward minimalism.

But two things about the popular comparison to Nike and Apple. First, when it comes to brand value, having your brand be “no name” doesn’t matter. A simple look at the annual Best Global Brands report shows that 40 of the world’s 50 most valuable brands use their full names as their logos. Sure, Nike and Apple (and now Starbucks) might be able to think about themselves as cooler than everyone else, but none of them are in the top 15.

Second, where the “made simpler” comparison to Nike and Apple (and, for some, Target) argument fails is in the actual simplicity, or lack thereof. Starbucks logo in some ways actually got less simple. Turn them upside down, invert them, change their colors, the Apple and Nike logos will remain immediately identifiable. Starbucks?

Here’s a test: stop looking at the screen right now and on a piece of paper draw a Nike logo from memory. Then draw an Apple logo from memory.

Now draw the new Starbucks mermaid from memory.