Article by Sarah Booth | esPResso Staff Writer

In 1997, Starbucks® rolled out their very first edition of the red holiday cups to spread joy and promote the holiday-themed flavors of the season. The tradition has held over the past 19 years but the past two years have not just been fueled by holly-jolly desire and lots of caffeine, but with grumpy attacks on Starbucks’ campaign.

Per Starbucks’ History of the Red Cup; “The anticipation begins in October, when the cups’ arrival begins to generate buzz on social media and websites count down the minutes and seconds until their return. Once they arrive, Starbucks red holiday cups begin to dot city streets and shopping malls, and customers tweet and share photos of their first Peppermint Mochas and Caramel Brulée Lattes on social newsfeeds.”

In 2015 Starbucks made a simple minimalist design choice as stated in a press release: “In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.” But this design of a two-toned red cup was met with sentiments of anger hashtags trending such as #MerryChristmasStarbucks, #WarOnChristmas and #BoycottStarbucks.

While the crisis could not be averted with any amount of public relations, Starbucks wanted to make up for the bad publicity this year by releasing a pre-holiday cup which features a mosaic of more than a hundred-people drawn in one continuous stroke — as reminder of our “shared values and the need to be good to each other.” The cup, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, was created as a symbol of unity amid the divisive election. But still, people responded to the campaign with confusion and upset when they came in for their morning coffee expecting a brand new red cup.

Various tweets from customers rolled in saying; “What the hell, @Starbucks. All these faces on my green cup and not a one of them looks like Santa or Jesus. WHY DO YOU STILL HATE CHRISTMAS”. Unaware that the green cups were not the official holiday ones, Starbucks decided to tweet: “No peeking! New #RedCups—coming soon.” On November 4 to calm the storm, receiving more than 3.5 thousand interactions, and then on the 5th: “Ok, here’s a hint: they’re red. #RedCups return 11/10.” With a photo below of blurred-out red cups and getting more than 30 thousand interactions.

Finally, the buzz came in the form of good publicity for Starbucks when they officially released the red holiday cups on November 11. One customer tweeted: “#RedCups rock! Good job on being less sensitive & more festive for #Christmas! @Starbucks heard us loud and clear. #MerryChristmas”

But what many customers aren’t realizing is that Starbucks held a worldwide competition to design these 2016 cups. “Taking a cue from customers who had been using their red holiday cups as a canvas, last December Starbucks invited customers to share their designs on Instagram, receiving more than 1,200 individual submissions from 13 countries.” stated a press release on November 9.

Although the holiday season is only a few months, Starbucks definitely needed to capitalize this year with perfecting the red cup. By reaching out to customers in order to pull together what they truly wished for and strengthening the consumer-brand relationship, Starbucks is finally back on track.


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