New Starbucks Logo: The Spirit of a Company

Starbucks unveiled their new logo today.

Customer reviews on the Starbucks corporate website are mixed, with more customers expressing displeasure than praising the update.

Now, we know that logos are incredibly important to a company.  Just this year, Gap attempted unsuccessfully to change to a new logo, and public outcry was so strong that they reverted to the former one after only a week.

I’m really not sure what Gap was trying to do with their change.  The original is iconic and has come to represent what the Gap is, but the new one looks like something you’d see on an investment firm.  Starbucks, on the other hand, has made a perfectly reasonable move with their change.

As Naomi Klein has shown in No Logo, the most successful brands (Nike, Apple, Virgin, Google, Coke, Pepsi, Disney, Starbucks) thrive not by producing a specific product but by embodying a certain spirit.  Often the production of the goods these brands sell are subcontracted to other, invisible companies.  Brands don’t want to be associated with particular products, but with a spirit.

Nike, for instance, does not exist to sell shoes, but, according to one statement, to “enhance people’s lives through sports and fitness,” to keep “the magic of sports alive.”  Former company President Tom Clark explained that, “the inspiration of sports allows us to rebirth ourselves constantly.”

For his part, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz has said, “Throughout the last four decades, the Siren has been there through it all.  Now, we’ve given her a small but meaningful update to ensure that the Starbucks brand continues to embrace our heritage and also ensure we remain relevant and poised for future growth.”  The change, of course, is to drop the name of the company altogether from the logo.  A name, it seems, just ties us down.

I read all of this in light of William T Cavanaugh’s theological assessment of the global market recession.  In most talk about the financial collapse, blame is assigned to either greed, recklessness or lack of governmental oversight.  Cavanaugh, working from Catholic social teaching, attributes it instead to divorcing the market from the doctrine of creation.  The market has become fantastical, mythical, based in commonly held fictions rather than in realistic terms of what constitutes wealth.

In other words, precisely what we need is to be tied down, anchored to the reality of what the earth, our pocketbooks, our communities and our global neighbors can really bear.  Starbucks, it seems to me, is moving us a little further in that spiritual, ungrounded direction.  After all, Starbucks isn’t a coffee shop, it’s our Third Place.

What do you think?  Do you like Starbucks’ new logo?  Am I reading too much into the changes?  How can Christians work to recover the reality behind brands and markets?

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