The Real Starbuck’s Marketing Miss

By now you’ve certainly heard the drama stirring around “the red cup” at Starbuck’s, and you’ve formed opinions. Perhaps you’ve even shared them. I haven’t reposted any blog rants about the red cup because frankly what Starbuck’s does with their marketing doesn’t shape my beliefs or values.

However, that doesn’t stop me from forming opinions about their marketing choices. From a design perspective, we help clients make choices for their branding every single day. Those choices are made based on research, data, preferences and intuition. Or the client just likes one option over the other. I can imagine the designers that presented the merchandising recommendations for the Starbuck’s holiday campaign probably pitched multiple ideas and some key decision makers within the organization said, “Yep, we like the clean, simple red cup.” And that’s it. Ok, maybe there was some deep hidden meaning. Or Starbuck’s is now trying to spin the idea that they wanted us to create our own holiday stories by writing on the cups. Nice try PR team. What probably happened was in the 100 holiday design choices that had to be made, someone just liked the plain, red cup. End of story.

In the end, this red cup frenzy is a marketing win. All the free publicity they’ve stirred from the numerous blogs, posts and reposts is resulting in literally millions of brand impressions for Starbuck’s. Someone somewhere is taking credit for creating a viral campaign when it likely wasn’t intention at all.

Here’s the real Starbuck’s fail: The Holiday Blend K-cup packaging. I bought a couple boxes at my local Sam’s Club to share with my teammates at the office. The bright red box is attractive and the red foiled K-cup is inviting. I looked at it and thought, “Ah ha, there’s the word ‘holiday’ so Starbuck’s isn’t a total holiday hater.” Then I saw the QR code. Like most people in the marketing business, we like to critique marketing choices made by other businesses. So Josh and I made it our mission to figure out how to scan an itty bitty QR code printed on foil which isn’t flat. We tried two different readers on our phones to no avail. Then I took a picture of the QR code, enlarged and brightened and tried to scan it from another phone. Still no luck. I am now insanely curious about where that QR code leads, but alas I will never know. That, my friends, is a giant marketing fail. QR codes are rarely scanned by consumers anyway, but now Starbuck’s makes it virtually impossible to scan guaranteeing that no one ever experiences what they wanted us to experience.

The plain red cup, I like. The stupid QR code that won’t scan and leaves me hanging, I hate. I hope someone from Starbuck’s reads this and sends me the link so I can have closure.

Jane Olvera Quebe, President