New Logo for Seattle's Best Coffee Meets With Hail of Jeers

Last Updated May 14, 2010 12:15 PM EDT

One of the toughest things a company can do is introduce a new corporate logo, and Seattle's Best Coffee, a unit of Starbucks (SBUX), is finding that out this week as its new brand was greeted with a hail of jeers. Designers say it looks like a blood bank logo; The Seattle Weekly said, "It's basically what you'd get if you combined Target with the Red Cross." An online poll shows 69 percent don't like the change.

Logos have a strange power: When Pepsico tried to change Tropicana's packaging, consumers mutinied and the company was forced to change it back. Managers often want to change their logo because they want to "refresh" their brand or give themselves a new story to tell consumers. It's often a mistake: logos are one of the few parts of a company that rarely change. Advertising, products and store locations can all morph from week to week. So consumers sometimes develop a greater familiarity with the logo than anything else about a company. And, of course, the logo is "consumed" by many more consumers than actually buy the product. In short, changing the logo is marketing's third rail: Touch it at your peril.

The problem with SBC's new marque is that it's a product of its times: It has the clean, modern lines of, well, pretty much everything, from Apple to Pepsi. And "clean" and "modern" don't say "coffee." The old logo had a vintage appeal (even though the company is only 40 years old); it suggested the coffee came from one of those aroma-packed mom-and-pop coffee stores where beans sit in sacks on the floor and grounds are measured on a brass scale. That's the coffee experience most people want, even if they're actually getting a paper cup in a movie theater.

The new logo evokes none of that. Because it's so trendy, it looks like it could be any corporate letterhead, from Lukoil to Vodafone.

Still, the true test is time. Everyone laughed at the new Pepsi redesign, but a year or so later it's fair to say that it's an improvement on the old one, which in hindsight reeked of the 1980s.

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