Starbucks’ Red Cups: The Christmas Controversy of 2015 That Everyone Already Wants To Forget

Coffee cup and coffee beans on old wooden backgroundIt all started with a red paper coffee cup.

Starbucks released their annual holiday cups in late October, which feature a rather plain “two-toned ombre design” and the infamous green caffeinated Medusa.

The cups didn’t really make news headlines; the company always releases a special-edition cup for the holidays and the 2015 design isn’t exactly groundbreaking.

But on Nov. 5, according to the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, the Christian Evangelical pastor Joshua Feuerstein took to Facebook to express his fury over the cups. After all, as various conservative Christians have stated, those darn red cups — clearly lacking any holiday cheer — show that Starbucks has declared a war on Christmas.

Well, Feuerstein was going to show them — those Christmas haters.

In a video which quickly went viral in a matter of days, the Arizona resident dramatically explained what his mission: he would grab a gun (since he’s legally allowed to carry one into Starbucks in Arizona), he would order a cup of that Seattle-roasted exclusive Christmas Blend Vintage 2015, and he would tell that poor barista his name was “Merry Christmas.”

Feuerstein encouraged his viewers to do the same, and to “trick” Starbucks into acknowledging Christmas again.

Granted, Starbucks cups never overtly displayed any images during the holiday season that are directly connected to any form of religion; the typical holiday cup from Starbucks would display red-and-white snowflakes, or maybe some flying snowmen.

But after the video received 13 million views, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Red Cup Fiasco spread like wildfire.

Most people used the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks sarcastically and the majority of social media users expressed their distaste with the perceived “war on Christmas.” The WSJ reported that 67% of all tweets between Nov. 5 and Nov. 9 regarding Starbucks’ cups were negative; only 17% of those negative tweets were directed toward the company, however.

Of course, that didn’t stop Donald Trump from taking a stand on the issue. As Business Insider reported, Trump announced at a Springfield, Illinois rally that he was considering boycotting Starbucks.

“Did you read about Starbucks?” Trump asked at the Nov. 9 rally. “No more Merry Christmas on Starbucks. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks. I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care.”

While the Red Cup Controversy may seem ridiculous to most consumers, there are two important lessons to take away from the incident:

First, politicians will do anything to get voter support before an election.

Second, all of the attention — even if most of it is negative — is just another form of content marketing. It’s likely to generate even more sales for Starbucks.

And third, design matters more than we realize.

“Our attention span is very short, just look at Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, text messages that use abbreviations and slang,” says Suzanne Jeska, MRN Designs. “In an instant a company needs to capture their potential customer’s attention. The Apple, Nike, Coca Cola and Ford logos (to name a few) are simple, eye catching, and identifiable. Any news that helps grab your attention to identify with a particular brand, can be good news. Starbucks, maybe unknowingly, sparked a controversy that resonates with a lot of us. We sometimes get tired of companies being too politically correct, yet Starbucks has received a lot of free advertising amid the controversy. Let the media digitally market your product and company for free.”

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