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Why Starbucks' New Logo is a Dumb Idea

There's been plenty of buzz about the Starbucks new logo, the first for Starbucks since 1992. Over the years, there have been accusations that the company's logo had a satanic element, since it pictured a two-tailed mermaid, which is the avatar of a pagan goddess.

I thought that was a silly idea until I read what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had to say about their new logo: "What is really important here is an evolutionary refinement of the logo, which is a mirror image of the strategy." Apparently, Starbucks plans to diversify and doesn't want to be buttonholed, by the logo, as a firm that only sells coffee.

The only way that a CEO would say something like this is if he were possessed by a demon, more specifically a demon who has an MBA in strategic marketing.

The strategy that Schultz is endorsing is what's known as "brand extension." It proceeds from the misconceived belief that a brand (i.e. the emotions that people feel about a certain product) can be harnessed to sell other types of products. It's the kind of thing that they teach you in B-school.

And it's totally ridiculous.

Some of the more ridiculous brand extension failures include LifeSavers Soda, Colgate Kitchen Entrees, Pond's Toothpaste, Country Time Cider, Ben-Gay Aspirin, Smith and Wesson Mountain Bikes, and Cosmopolitan Yogurt (that's the magazine, not the drink).

In B-schools, the example that's usually trotted out as a successful brand extension is Playboy, which makes more money merchandising than it makes on the magazine. But that's a specious example, because the Playboy brand, almost from the start, was a "lifestyle" brand, not a magazine brand. As such, just about any product aimed towards men of a certain age fit within the brand promise.

In the case of Starbucks, the brand will always mean "good but kinda expensive coffee" until everyone who became an adult before the year 2000 is dead. Any attempt to expand the brand beyond stuff you'd expect to find in a coffee shop is a waste of time and effort.

Therefore, changing the logo is a pointless exercise. What's worse, dropping the "coffee" from the logo simply weakens the brand, because it weakens the association of the image with the company's core product. What's worse, it can cause the company to lose focus on its primary product, thereby damaging the brand.

I'm reminded of when Boston Chicken changed its name to Boston Market. That made no sense whatsoever because the store sold rotisserie chicken Boston-style, not markets located in posts. Three years later, the company was filed for bankruptcy. Dumb.

Similarly, Xerox has spent billions of dollars over several decades trying to reposition its brand beyond that of a making copiers. Ask almost anybody on the planet what Xerox does and they'll tell you: "they make copiers" or, worse, "they used to make copiers, I think."

Every time you see a company trying brand extension, you find a top management who's been hypnotized by brand marketers. Once under the spell, they lose track of the fact that a brand is only a lingering emotional reaction to a product. It has no life of its own, beyond the customer's continuing experience with the product.

Because of this, almost all brand marketing -- and especially logo redesign -- is a complete waste of time and effort. And thinking that logo redesign is somehow going to help a company move into another product category... that's beyond ridiculous.


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