Starbucks was the subject of social media outrage this week over its red holiday cups--which, lacking decoration this year, some took to be an affront to Christianity. A "Christian Man" Joshua Feurstein's rant about the cups posted to YouTube sparked a viral discussion and a PR problem for Starbucks.
"Starbucks is not allowed to say Merry Christmas to customers," he says, speaking on behalf of a larger contingent of customers who believe the company's plain cups signal a non-denominational effort to celebrate the holidays and a negative symptom of what some think of as an "overly PC" culture today in America.
Interestingly, Starbucks' response to the controversy has been minimal--almost as minimal as the design that sparked it. According to Clickz marketing news:
The plain aesthetic was in response to consumers' tendency to doodle all over the cups. Thom Kennon, chief strategy officer at New York agency Pure, thinks that's almost a metaphor for the way Starbucks' fans feel about the brand.
"We all sort of inject or project ourselves into the brands we love. The reason we love some brands more than others is because they do a good job aligning their truth with ours. In this case, Starbucks provided a blank screen and people started filling it in with what matters to them," says Kennon.
So far the company has released a short, somewhat tepid statement:
"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cup designs. This year, we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."
Rather than take action, therefore, it seems that Starbucks is leaving the damage-control up to its fans. Many have taken the opportunity to parody the controversy online or share their opinion--including comedians Stephen Colbert, Ellen DeGeneres, and Weird Al.