September 28, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

The Starbucks cup: a lesson in product rebranding

The Starbucks cup: a lesson in product rebranding

As PR pros, we all know the importance of keeping your company’s brand and products current and appealing, but product rebranding should not be done without recognizing the potential risks. Missing the mark can cause real backlash from your customers.

The difficulty of rebranding a product was recently demonstrated by Starbucks. In early November, Starbucks debuted a cup that was met with criticism. Typically, a disposable cup at a coffee shop wouldn’t be considered a product, but Starbucks has commodified theirs and made them such a brand icon that, in their case, they are. The unfavorable responses provides a cautionary tale for companies looking to rebrand.


Each year on November 1, Starbucks unveils its anticipated red cups for the holiday season. The cups typically feature illustrations of festive decorations and messages. This year on November 1, however, Starbucks premiered a green cup featuring the faces of more than 100 people drawn with a single, connected stroke. In a press release, Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz stated, “During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other.” Despite the positive intention, Starbucks received mixed reviews for its efforts.

It is important to note that these cups will not replace the annual holiday ones, but due to confusion regarding the premiere date, customers assumed that this was the holiday cup this season. Consumers criticized Starbucks for substituting the traditionally decorative red cup with a green one lacking any Christmas affiliation. Additionally, consumers claimed that its reference to a “divisive time in our country” supported political discourse and a liberal agenda. Customers who found the cups laden with political implications shared their protests via social media.

What does this mean for rebranding?

Starbucks’ new seasonal cups likely won’t have a lasting effect on the company’s reputation, as they are a widespread, successful company and their new cup was temporary, but they do provide an important reminder of the risks of change. Customers have strong connections to companies and their appearances, so altering products can lead to changes in loyalty. According to a 2015 survey conducted by, 66 percent of consumers cite “features, design, and quality of product or service” as the main driver of brand loyalty. Since more than half of consumers value the appearance of a company and its products, professionals must consider how rebranding can impact relationships with their audience.  

How can you handle rebranding?

When your company is planning a rebranding venture, media monitoring and measurement can help with the lead up and launch. First, conduct a baseline analysis to measure the general perception of your brand and its coverage in media. This analysis provides an average percentage of sentiment towards your company and its products. Following the launch, conduct periodic analyses of sentiment. Comparing the baseline analysis to the results following the rebrand will show if there are spikes in positive or negative reactions caused by the rebranding.

Additionally, monitoring allows you to respond to feedback about the rebrand. Understanding and responding to customer feedback is important; a 2016 study conducted by Apptentive found that 55 percent of consumers said they are unlikely to remain a customer to a company that ignores feedback. Therefore, if your audience is responding positively to the launch, it presents a good opportunity to engage with them, perhaps by thanking them for being a customer. If your audience is not responding positively to the rebrand, monitoring facilitates management of these negative reactions. Studying the unfavorable coverage allows professionals to change flaws and address concerns.

As demonstrated by Starbucks’ recent cup debate, product rebranding can be tricky to maneuver. Customers have strong opinions of and connections to the companies they like. Utilizing media monitoring and measurement, specifically to gauge sentiment and track mentions, can help prepare and manage rebranding ventures.

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About The Author'

Jordan Gosselin recently began her career in marketing and communication with CARMA. Her experience includes social and digital work, creative content production, and marketing operations.

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