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A little marketing strategy

I happened to catch that cantankerous gabber Rush Limbaugh on the radio today and he went off for a few minutes on the soon-to-be-introduced new Starbucks logo. The new logo has a couple of pretty conspicuous absences: no “Starbucks” or “coffee” anywhere to be found. This has caused quite a stir among people that struggle to find things to do with their time. One comment by “JB” on the Slate Magazine site reads, “Starbucks has also caved to cultural pressures.”

Apparently I don’t find this as interesting as Rush and JB, but it did get me thinking. The announcement was made by Starbucks on Wednesday, January 5th. I didn’t hear the big news until Thursday, January 6th (I guess I don’t follow the right people on Twitter) but I’m fairly certain that feedback started coming in almost immediately – and from what Rush insinuated, most of it is negative. There’s no question that Starbucks is aware of that.

There’s another iconic brand that I can think of – a little shoe company in Oregon by the name of Nike – that went through a similar transition. Their original logo featured that lovely swoosh (that they paid a student $35 for; pretty good bargain) with the words “NIKE” in block letters. At some point they made the decision to drop the letters, and it seems to have worked out ok for them. Here’s the difference: when Nike made that decision, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no “Logo Outrage Blog”. The impact of their decision would primarily only be measured by the one thing that matters – sales.

Here’s my point (yes, I have one, settle down). People are brand loyal, and hate change. Mess with something they love, and the reaction will pretty much always be negative. Had Al Gore invented Twitter back when Nike made their change, there’s no doubt that the JBs of the world would have spewed hatred for the change. It might even have been enough for Nike to go back to their original logo, much like Starbucks might consider doing. My concern/fear/question is this – now that folks at large have an immediate forum to voice their opinions, it that a good thing? We don’t know anything about JB’s qualifications; he could be the VP of a marketing firm, or he could just be a pizza maker/coffee drinker. Even Rush’s opinion on this matter is suspect – I know he’s a current events aficionado, but what’s his branding background?

In October of 2010, The Gap introduced a new logo. Just a few days later, due to social media outrage, they changed it back. I guarantee they spent more than $35 on that debacle. One could argue that The Gap simply gave their customers back what they wanted, but a poll found that 80% of their customers had no idea the logo had changed. Never before in history has the bandwagon had so much influence. Is that a good thing?

I guess I have a different opinion of “caving in to cultural pressures”…

***Update – 1/14/2011***
Seth Godin happened to have a blog article that is related: Three ways TV changed everything (and what’s next)

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