It’s time for the Star­bucks hol­i­day cup con­tro­versy: Do the com­pany’s new de­signs em­brace Christ­mas?

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BUSINESS - By Michael Brice-Sad­dler

Stars, stripes, flames and cof­fee cher­ries, all adorned in cheer­ful shades of red and green.

These are the four de­signs in Star­bucks’ lat­est batch of sea­son­ally themed cups. This year, the cof­fee-mak­ing ti­tan said it wanted to “look to the past” and draw in­spi­ra­tion from its sig­na­ture Christ­mas blend.

Straight­for­ward enough, right? Well — for some rea­son — it isn’t.

The cups seem harm­less at first, grant­ing con­sumers a fes­tive way to en­joy their fa­vorite sug­ary — and some­times over-the-top — bev­er­ages.

But in re­cent years, watch­ing some of Star­bucks’ sea­sonal de­sign choices trig­ger con­tro­versy has be­come a hol­i­day tra­di­tion in it­self.

In 2015, for ex­am­ple, the com­pany in­tro­duced a plain red hol­i­day cup, end­ing a string of de­signs that fea­tured more ex­plicit hol­i­day sym­bols, such as or“Maybe na­ments and rein­deer, dat­ing to 1997.

Upon in­tro­duc­ing the min­i­mal­ist cup, Star­bucks Vice Pres­i­dent Jef­frey Fields said it was a way to “usher in the hol­i­days with a pu­rity of de­sign that wel­comes all of our sto­ries.”

The big­gest story emerged soon af­ter­ward, how­ever, when self-de­scribed evan­ge­list Joshua Feuer­stein posted a now­in­fa­mous rant on Face­book, slam­ming the cof­fee chain’s de­sign choice.

He ex­claimed in the video, “Do you re­al­ize that Star­bucks wanted to take Christ and Christ­mas off of their brand-new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red!”

Feuer­stein wasn’t alone in his ire. That same year, at a cam­paign rally, then­can­di­date Don­ald Trump also crit­i­cized the cups, sug­gest­ing that there was “No more ‘Merry Christ­mas’ at Star­bucks. No more.”

we should boy­cott Star­bucks,” Trump added.

In 2017, Star­bucks went a dif­fer­ent route — craft­ing a white de­sign with doo­dles that en­cour­aged cus­tomers to dec­o­rate and color the cup to their lik­ing.

But the doo­dles in­cluded two in­ter­locked hands that some in­ter­preted as be­long­ing to a same-sex cou­ple. This up­set some, who be­lieved the cup’s de­sign un­nec­es­sar­ily pro­moted a “gay agenda.”

Back then, Star­bucks told the New York Times that it would leave it up to cus­tomers to in­ter­pret what was on the cup.

This year, the ques­tion from 2015 re­turns: Is Star­bucks truly em­brac­ing Christ­mas?

A CNN ar­ti­cle pub­lished Thurs­day morn­ing sug­gests as much.

In the ar­ti­cle, ti­tled “Star­bucks is dou­bling down on Christ­mas with its new hol­i­day cups,” Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Roz Brewer said the com­pany had “lis­tened to cus­tomers” and re­al­ized they “loved the tra­di­tion of Christ­mas.”

Brewer said Star­bucks re­al­ized that last year’s cup de­sign “didn’t res­onate with some, but it did res­onate with oth­ers.”

She also told CNN that this year’s cups are “not only retro, but true to who we are.”

Beth Egan, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ad­ver­tis­ing at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity, told the Wash­ing­ton Post that she doesn’t think the lat­est batch of cups re­flect Christ­mas or any one hol­i­day in par­tic­u­lar.

“They have a nice ar­ray of im­ages that sort of play to Christ­mas from the red and green stand­point,” Egan said. “But if you look at the star, it could just as eas­ily be a Star of David.”

Egan said she thinks some groups, such as con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians, may be ac­tively look­ing to pick fights with Star­bucks’ de­signs be­cause of the stances the com­pany has taken on cer­tain is­sues, such as same-sex mar­riage.

“I find the ire in­ter­est­ing. I think some peo­ple are look­ing to be an­gry,” Egan said.

On the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the hands on last year’s cup, she added: “If you look at the over­all de­sign of that cup, they’re car­toon hands . . . . How do you make a car­toon hand male or fe­male?”

In a state­ment to the Post, Star­bucks spokes­woman Sanja Gould said that, above all, the com­pany as­pires to cre­ate a “real sense of com­mu­nity and con­nec­tion be­tween our baris­tas and cus­tomers.”

“As a brand that is in­tensely per­sonal, we are hum­bled by how pas­sion­ate cus­tomers are about our hol­i­day cups,” Gould said.

Star­bucks

Star­bucks’ sea­son­ally themed cups have made their de­but. This year, the de­signs are more tra­di­tional.

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