Mid-May the fine folks at Starbucks headquarters in The Emerald City – no, not the one Dorothy visited, the one that gave us grunge and baristas – set the caffeine scene atwitter with the "new" Seattle’s Best Coffee logo. To herald the launch, a mock commando operation was staged and the Starbucks clock tower was wrapped with banners sporting the new design.
Seattle’s Best Coffee began roasting in 1970 on Seattle’s Pier 70. The name owes its origin to a local restaurant, which held a taste-off and the rest is history, as they say. In 2003, Starbucks Corporation acquired Seattle’s Best Coffee.
So why a complete redesign? Apparently Starbucks doesn’t believe the old logo has the where-with-all to become a nationwide brand. In a launch press release the company announced an agreement with AMC Theatres to serve Seattle’s Best Coffee at nearly 300 theaters as well as an agreement to sell their coffee at all Burger King restaurants in the United States.
According to Michelle Gass, Seattle’s Best Coffee president, “the new brand direction will bring a simplified approach to the coffee category in all the ways it will touch the customer…and we designed the new logo to one day become a universally recognized and reassuring symbol for great tasting coffee everywhere. The new logo may look understated or undone, but that is exactly what we wanted. A simple logo for the best coffee in the world.”
Achieving the lofty goal of a universal sign for anything is a herculean task and dependent on symbols and images readily identified and associated with the product or company you want to represent.
Further, reductive design has the potential of crossing a line where all relational elements are eliminated or so obscured to be unrecognizable or misinterpreted. Thus the logo no longer conveys knowledge of the product, the company, or its category. The association, which forms the foundation of branding, is broken.
This creates a significant challenge to the brand owner to reattach the previous "good will" which inured to the old logo. The new, seemingly generic, and fundamentally meaningless, design lacks this attribute.
Simplification has its place in designing a corporate icon, but making it banal does not. The result must be relevant, it’s meaning clearly understood, especially in a visually competitive environment such as street signage or packaging on store shelves.
Fundamental to design is not requiring potential purchasers to guess what your goods and services might be when encountering your logo, or leaving it open to interpretation. Circumstances might not afford the proper connotation.
The new logo is a bit reminiscent of the (Red) campaign to fight AIDs in Africa. Surely a noble cause but not in line with Starbucks objectives for the Seattle’s Best Coffee brand.
Along with many critical articles, some amusing comparisons have been offered. Paraphrasing one commentator, its looks like the love child of the Red Cross and Target. Others have referenced Seattle’s Best Blood Bank, Seattle’s Best Soup Kitchen, a UK-based telecommunications firm, even a Russian oil company.
The best in plasma, hot and fresh. Give blood with your jolt of java.
Perhaps, Seattle’s Best Coffee is subtly leveraging the popularity of Twilight and all things sanguine to encourage imbibing their brew.
Unless there is a clear and compelling market-driven reason to change, leave well enough alone and leverage the recognition engendered by a familiar brand and its symbol sets.
Granted the new shape might fit better on a coaster or lend itself to embroidered staff shirts and caps, but it reminds me of the high-ticket Tropicana packaging blunder by Arnell Group on behalf of PepsiCo. And we saw how well that worked out. Perhaps, Starbucks should follow PepsiCo’s lead and listen to their customers.
If generic is the goal, or sidling up to Burger King is their aspiration, then perhaps mission accomplished. Given the full context in which this mark will be used and the goods offered – the new design might overcome its deficiencies. However, that is not a situation in which I would deliberately place a brand.
Seattle’s Best? I think not.