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Starbucks Logo and Branding

Essay by   •  November 6, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,812 Words (16 Pages)  •  3,038 Views

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Try taking a walk in New York without bypassing a Starbucks. Seriously, try- I dare you! Starbucks coffeehouses are so ubiquitous this task would almost certainly be impossible. The truth is, this is not just a New York thing, I was just trying to make the point relevant. Starbucks is the largest coffee distributor in the world and exist all over cities across the country as well as a global expansion. Before getting to the company's origin, branding and success, a closer look will be taken at the company's most simple, unique and important graphic representation: the logo.

Even considering the relatively low level of advertising done by such a large company, the omnipresent storefronts and ubiquitous coffee cups have exposed us all to the logo countless times. While one would assume the logo designers had no idea how many people would eventually see their work, it is obvious a lot of thought went into its design. This is apparent not just in the elements included and their symbology which will be tackled later on, but also the placement of everything, all contributing to an overall balance.

The logo has undergone a few revisions since the original was released, but the basics remained consistent. In the original, as in the next version and the current version, the basic shape is circular with the company name surrounding an image in the center. Whether the image is that of a mermaid, a siren or something else is up for debate, but for now, the composition is our focus and the content will be discussed later. The original logo showed the mermaid/siren in its entirety, surrounded by concentric circles containing the name. This circular shape is seemingly placed atop a rectangle. The Law of Simplicity and the Law of Completeness suggest this is the case rather than the overall outline being comprised of simply one shape. It is uncertain whether they changed the logo to make it more simple, but whether or not it was their motivation, it was a solution they met. Reducing the complex shape to one of a circle reduces any extraneous elements and makes the logo more simple. The parsimonious approach reduces the outline to the simplest visual pattern- the primordial circle.

Although the original illustration of the mermaid/siren was replaced with a less complex line drawing, it remains the dominant item on the logo. As we learned, the center of any structural skeleton carries the most weight and particularly in a circle, the shape tends to draw attention to the center. Also, the image of the mermaid/siren is pretty dynamic with all the lines and movement so its complexity tends to draw attention.

Looking at the two logos, another addition to the newer one are the stars on the sides. Aside from their symbolic meaning, they seem to lend a balance that might otherwise be absent. In the original logo, there are large spaces between the text on the top and bottom of the logo, but the weight of the empty space does not draw the eye away from the center or the name since the space is not isolated. Although the protruding rectangular edges reduce the logo's overall simplicity, they ensure the empty space within the concentric circles do not detract from the more important elements. If you look at the revised logo and imagine the stars are not there, the empty spaces they leave might even be the most weighted part of the logo considering the solid, simple and empty space not found anywhere else on the logo. The inclusion of the stars add another element, but aid in returning the focus back to the center of the logo, followed by the name. Also, without such a drastic break in the text on top and bottom, "STARBUCKS COFFEE" can be read as one continuous item as they are seemingly connected by the stars. Here, the Law of Proximity comes into play. Without the stars, "STARBUCKS" and "COFFEE" are too far apart to be grouped, whereas with the stars, the entire logotype is one element, the mermaid/siren another.

The revised logo and the current logo are identical except for the cropping of the mermaid/siren. Just as the original logo was adjusted so the breasts were covered with the mermaid/siren's hair in the next version, the corporate logo was still too sexually suggestive for some. While the illustration is a symbol of a mythical creature with a split tail, some felt the tail resembled legs, spread open to reveal the "sexuality" of the creature. This may seem too conservative for some, but the truth is, the mythical creatures did actually represent female sexuality at its highest form and right or wrong, the company obviously did not feel comfortable with the potential controversy the logo may cause. Therefore the logo was revised again, leaving us with the current version.

The latest version is even more simple than the last, the orderliness achieved by a closer cropping of the illustration in the center. While the cropping left a lot of the detail, movement and dynamics off the logo, if anything, it added greater weight to the center of the logo. The mermaid/siren is now larger and there is more white in her center, again adding weight. Further, the Law of Completion dictates that we will see her as a whole even though part of her is cut off. In fact, of anyone that I asked, everyone knew it was some sort of mermaid in the center. The type of mermaid and story behind the selection of this symbol to represent the company is another story altogether.

For most who have not done the research, they would assume that the illustration is of a mermaid. Why? Our culture is not well versed in mythological history and has not learned enough to recognize the difference between a mermaid and a siren. The truth is, the difference is pretty major, but "mermaid" is a term that has widely been adopted to mean any woman of the sea, i.e. the figure that is half woman, half fish, regardless of the tail or other ornaments or props it might possess. The long flowing hair in the illustration is reminiscent of the long hair, in some historic references comprised of seaweed that all "mermaids" possess. According to the Dictionary of Symbols, long loose hair on a woman signifies the unmarried state or virginity. The symbolism here might be to suggest that Starbucks coffee is pure, certainly a desirable product characteristic. Further along the symbolism of the hair, Liungman says that when wavy lines are represented by 3 together, Chinese ideography says it is representative of water- a river or stream (two wavy lines means electricity). When the three wavy lines are vertical, they represent steam. Beyond the hair of the mermaid/siren the suggestion of steam is certainly a great subtle hint of another desirable product characteristic: steam rising from hot coffee.

Similar to the popular Disney movie "The Little Mermaid",

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