What Did We Learn From Starbucks’ Red Holiday Cup?

Nov 24, 2015

What Did We Learn From Starbucks’ Red Holiday Cup?

Few brands inspire such intense feelings of loyalty or disdain as Starbucks. One of the world’s largest and most visible corporations, Starbucks often finds itself in the social media crosshairs of users who vocally dislike the company’s brand, while also simultaneously receiving immense support from its massive network of dedicated consumers.

Of course recently Starbucks has been at the center of several well-covered controversies that have only helped to raise the voices of the company’s loudest critics. While last year’s pumpkin spice latte controversy or Starbuck’s widely misguided RaceTogether campaign from earlier this year proved much more divisive, the company’s current kerfuffle has proven no less visible.

First, let’s take a moment to understand what caused the latest dispute. Every year to celebrate the coming holiday season, Starbucks releases a signature red holiday cup. The annual release of the holiday cup has become so anticipated and popular with Starbuck’s customer base that countdown clocks and in-store celebrations have become commonplace. Even more impressive, Starbucks claims that within the first 48 hours following the launch of this year’s red cup, photos of the holiday cup were shared on Instagram at the rate of one every 14 seconds.

In years past, the holiday Starbucks cup has featured a variety of festive designs covering the cup’s base red color. This year Starbucks decided to go in a different, more minimal direction with a design that simply featured a solid red cup. When combined with the company’s unmistakable green logo, the design combined to create a subtle, yet festive, holiday vibe.

But a cup is not just a cup in today’s highly sensitive climate, and Starbucks received criticism through social media channels for being too politically correct and for clearly trying to “destroy Christmas.” As the issue became the focus of media attention, many of Starbucks supporters came to the company’s defense, or at least expressed their complete and total apathy toward the brewing controversy.

As corporate controversies go, the “Red Cup Fiasco” seems fairly tame. However, the issue does provide a few important lessons any entrepreneur can learn from.

Seriously, There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

A $92 billion a year business will never be considered a plucky underdog. When you factor the $1.4 billion Starbucks spent on loyalty card and gift marketing during the 2014 holiday season, it’s fairly obvious the company has a near infinite marketing budget. With its ample resources and marketplace, Starbucks has the ability to employ some of the most creative marketers in the industry who must of known the potential ramifications this new campaign could create. So why start something that could cause such a divisive reaction?

Easy: You can turn millions of customers into publishers and marketers.

Starbucks’ red cup received attention from all the major news networks and was talked about on The Daily Show, The Late Show and Ellen Degeneres. You cannot buy that kind of PR.

Starbucks understands all too well that visibility is the key to any businesses success. When you can garner attention at very little cost, all the better. While some negative PR can have lasting effects, smart marketers understand how to turn small controversies into major marketing bonanzas.

Never Underestimate Social Media

It took no time at all for this “controversy” to reach every corner of social media, once again proving the incredible power of social media platforms that allow a large number of people to spread information like never before.

For businesses of every size, the value of understanding the power of social media and how it can raise the visibility of your brand shouldn’t be taken lightly. While it’s incredibly difficult to correctly guess which campaigns will go viral, it’s clear that a well planned out social media strategy is the primary key to success in today’s business climate.

Opportunists Find Opportunities

While manufactured controversies like the “Red Cup Fiasco” quickly fad from the public eye, entrepreneurs with the willingness and creativity to act quickly have the ability to take advantage of these types of situations. Brands like Dunkin Donuts – who made a production of the release of their own holiday cup – that quickly took advantage of Starbuck’s controversy received a boost from the issue. Issue like these presents an opportunity for small business owners and creative types to ride the wave and garner attention of their own.

So regardless of how you personally viewed Starbuck’s holiday cup campaign, it’s important to understand how information is distributed today – through the social media posts of billions of users. Knowing how to take advantage of this fact is how the entrepreneurs of tomorrow will find success.

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