Starbucks shuts down criticism of its holiday cup design

Well, looks like I goofed. In a previous post I called the Starbucks cup design the holiday re-design and apparently it was not. That design was more election-related, though most of what I wrote about Starbucks being in the center of controversy stands.

Grubstreet recently reported on the real Starbucks holiday cup design, and while “critic-proof” is by no means an absolute, it is interesting how they arrived at the 2016 holiday season designs.

Those who wanted to saw the gradient/ombre cups of 2015 as a “war on Christmas.” They even discarded the reality that most of the symbols people associate with Christmas were appropriated from earlier pagan festivals such as Saturnalia to arrive at this conclusion. I think I’ve said plenty about the alleged “war on Christmas” already but I think some of it bears repeating. There are many different observances between the American Thanksgiving and the beginning of the new year: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Grav-mass/Newtonmas, Yule, Yalda, Boxing Day, Dongzhi Festival, Quaid-e-Azam’s Day, Chalica, Soyal, Pancha Ganapati, Festivus… just to name a few.

Anyway, before I go too far off on that tangent, Starbucks took 13 of the best designs drawn on the 2015 cups, and used them as designs for the 2016 cups. The 2016 cups don’t appear to have the actual ombre/gradient background from 2015, though (I happen to be at a Starbucks as I write this so I can glance over and look). Even more interesting, Starbucks has made a winter design for the clear plastic cups used for cold drinks, since those still get ordered down south in cities like Houston (and not just the weirdo geek writing this that orders iced tea at Starbucks 10½ to 11 months out of the year).

The assertion of “critic-proof” has yet to be proven. But to those who are going to call a “war on Christmas” based on not including things like snowflakes, trees, or other symbols of wintertime: make a note of where they come from. Even Santa Claus has his origins in Yule, not Christmas.

Maybe it’s time I call a “war on Yule and Saturnalia” given that so much “Christmas” decorations have been appropriated from those two holidays.

It’s the holiday season, and Starbucks returns to the center of controversy

I know I’ve kept far quieter about the upcoming election than I should have. To be honest, I found it incredibly difficult to actually put the disgust I have felt about parts of this campaign into words. I am breaking my usual pattern of not posting on the weekends (as you may have noticed, this going up on a Saturday) to try and catch up on a few topics. I’m going to try to keep this on the main topic as expressed by the title, though by necessity I will wind up discussing a few things about the election as a result.

Upworthy recently reported on the latest Starbucks holiday cup, and unfortunately, the controversy that was unbelievably quick to come in return. This is not the first time we’ve been down this road, as regular readers of this blog should be aware.

The only reason I will likely not wind up with one of these cups is that I rarely if ever order hot drinks, coffee or otherwise, at Starbucks. (My usual is iced tea, and I’ve been known to order it well into the winter, or at least what passes for winter in Houston.) This cup is definitely a keeper, though, should I partake of my occasional wintertime hot chocolate.

This quote from the article sums it up nicely:

No election will solve those problems. No election can solve those problems. Those issues — what it means to coexist with people who hold vastly different beliefs than our own — are on us to solve in our everyday lives and in how we choose to treat others. This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue; this is a human issue.

This has been, if not the most polarizing election, one of the three most polarizing elections I have lived through. The 2004 and 2008 elections are definitely contenders for most polarizing, and I feel the trend has been towards more polarization and division as the years have worn on. This is a real shame, and to be honest quite unexpected in this cycle (then again, Donald Trump actually being nominated wasn’t something I had expected to happen either; more on that in a later post).

That the backlash comes in the form of, for example, someone deriding the cups as “political brainwashing” is a pretty sad commentary on where we are as a society and a country. I’m proud to be an American, but I’m embarrassed to see people writing things like that and at the same time holding themselves out as Americans, and in some cases patriotic Americans at that.

I don’t think the design is about politics, and certainly not about Starbucks openly positioning itself as a Democrat- or liberal-leaning company. I take the message at face value: that there is more that unites us than that divides us. Come November 9, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to wake up with a president they didn’t want. And yes, in a way that will include me; I really wanted Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, and I was severely disappointed when he decided to concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton. A lot of Republicans certainly didn’t get the candidate they really wanted, either.

I get that a lot of people were disappointed by Barack Obama’s presidency. President Obama got a lot accomplished, though there were a few things that in my opinion he screwed up. (I do plan to post a retrospective on his presidency either near the end of the year or in early 2017; which it is depends on whether I carry on with some plans I had for this blog in the month of January.)

But slamming Starbucks for choosing the cup design they did? One that’s supposed to celebrate unity? That’s outrageous, and I would even call it borderline un-American. Again, because of the cup design and the fact that people are slamming Starbucks over it, I’m making my next visit to Starbucks sooner rather than later. (Though the fact I’m at 120 stars and thus only five away from earning my next free beverage certainly doesn’t hurt.)

I’m not even going to think about opening the whole “war on Christmas” can of worms just yet. It’s still a bit too early, and those worms go better with Thanksgiving turkey anyway.

[Update 2016-11-29: As referenced in a more recent post, this cup design is not for the winter holiday season, but more timed for the election season.]

“Happy Holidays” redux

Some long-time readers of this blog might remember this post from 2013 December entitled, appropriately enough, “Why I say ‘Happy Holidays'”. Precious little has changed since then, except the assertion that there’s an ever-continuing “war on Christmas” by Christian zealots and similar right-wing types.

If anything, antics of the sort perpetrated by the owners of Berryhill restaurants (as reported by KTRK-TV) seem to indicate there’s a war to shove religious symbolism in the face of those who have already chosen to be atheist, agnostic, or otherwise adopt a non-Christian set of beliefs. Even if the signs come back down, I’m likely never eating at Berryhill again. The food was overpriced and not all that great last time I ate at one; even if it was great, though, to atheists like myself a phrase like “in God we trust” looks as sensical as “in the Flying Spaghetti Monster we trust” or “in Zeus we trust” would to a hardcore Christian.

From the story:

The signs were posted at the direction of Berryhill CEO Jeff Anon. The tipping point for him was the generic red cups used for the holiday season by [Starbucks]. At the time it was described as more inclusive for people of all beliefs.

(If you missed my post about this year’s “plain” Starbucks cups, feel free to catch up now.)

This post at dearblankpleaseblank.com sums things up rather nicely (though it is from a parenting perspective):

Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around… and PLEASE don’t try to shove it down my child’s throat.

I would add to that, that a decision made for religious reasons sometimes makes amazingly poor business sense. Chick-Fil-A could easily be in operation seven days per week, letting those with different beliefs to those of the founder have a different day off (I’m sure there are plenty of atheists in any large city willing to work Sundays while the Christians are in church). By closing on Sundays, they are leaving at least 14.2% (one-seventh) of their possible revenue on the table. They still advertise heavily on Sundays during NFL games, though, for reasons I cannot fathom (“hey, let’s go get some Chick-Fil-A after the game!” … “damn they’re closed… so why did we just see a commercial for them?”). I’m sure competing restaurants (KFC, Raising Cane’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc) don’t mind the extra business from disgruntled would-be Chick-Fil-A customers wanting a chicken fix.

(Sidenote: nowhere in the Bible does it specifically say which day of the week is the day of rest. Some major denominations, such as Seventh-day Adventists, observe Sabbath on Saturday (or more accurately, Friday sunset to Saturday sunset); most stick to Sunday, and still others say the spirit of the rule (that one day out of the week be taken for rest regardless of which day it might be) is more important than the letter.)

Anyway, such is the case here. It’s the right of a CEO to believe however he/she wants, and to run their business based on their beliefs. However, my experience has shown that business decisions are best made for business reasons, not religious reasons. Or, put another way, mixing religion with business tends toward a negative expected value (EV). Mr. Anon would do well to consult with a PR agency on how to fix the damage, if it’s still fixable (it may not be, at least under the current Berryhill name).

I stand by what I said in 2013 about saying “happy holidays” to include everyone. It’s how I felt then, it’s how I feel now, and it’s likely that I’ll feel the same way for the rest of my life. I’m at the point where I feel any sane human being shouldn’t find it offensive that I say “happy holidays” and certainly should not feel it’s a “war on Christmas” to say “happy holidays” or revert to a simple, all-inclusive gradient cup design for serving coffee and other similar drinks. If being inclusive is that offensive, then there is something very, very wrong with our society, and we need to fix it now.

In research for the 2013 post, I came across Kwanzaa. I mentioned it in the 2013 post linked above. I at first believed the premise behind Kwanzaa was nonsensical, that it seemed silly to make a holiday for the sole purpose of competing with the other winter holidays out of thin air (Kwanzaa didn’t exist until 1965 and was not actually observed until 1966). But then I really, really thought about it on my drive back home from work tonight, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I’d rather have five, ten, or even twenty more holidays like Kwanzaa, than even one more Christian holiday scheduled deliberately to usurp some pagan festival that most unenlightened people have long since forgotten, or at least that Christians would prefer we forget (and which I along with my fellow atheists, humanists, skeptics, etc do our best to help make sure are remembered).

I have a few posts to close out the year with next week, but for now, happy holidays from Rant Roulette. I’ll be back on Monday.

A simple red coffee cup

Sometimes the more inclusive you are, the worse the result. Such is the case for Starbucks this holiday season, it appears.

Buzzfeed recently reported on the backlash Starbucks has experienced for its 2015 holiday cups. In years past (from 1997 on according to the company), Starbucks has placed various winter-themed art such as snowmen, snowflakes, a boy and his dog riding a sled down a snow-packed hill, and art suggestive of a decorated tree. This year, Starbucks went with what I describe as a simple bright red/crimson gradient; if you prefer the official line, this blog entry on the Starbucks corporate blog calls it “…a two-toned ombré design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below”.

Later in that same blog post/media release, Starbucks states:

“Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays,” he said. “We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It’s more open way to usher in the holiday.”

Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season. Starbucks will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world.

If only that were enough to appease some zealots looking for something to call a “war on Christmas.” That’s what this simplistic redesign has been called, believe it or not. Even though the designs Starbucks used in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 had purely winter-themed art, with only the designs in 2009 and 2013 showing parts of decorated trees which some use to celebrate other winter holidays besides Christmas. (See for yourself in this Time article.)

It’s absurd that this is being called a “war on Christmas.” It’s anything but. It’s Starbucks trying to be more inclusive, and trying something different this year. Again, that quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry comes to mind: “It seems that perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Maybe it is an attempt by Starbucks to make the perfect holiday coffee cup. Whether they have succeeded, of course, remains to be seen.

This will certainly not affect the patronage I give to Starbucks, as I support their decision to select coffee cup art they feel appropriate. In fact, I completely support the effort by Starbucks to be as inclusive as possible. This is, unfortunately, a great example of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Starbucks tries to include everyone, and all hell breaks loose by those who still feel left out. (As an example, those of us who have lived in Texas our entire lives barely know what snow is, yet I don’t think anyone complained to Starbucks that they put snowmen on coffee cups.)

I haven’t heard of the Jewish population raising a stink about a “war on Hanukkah” in the entire time I’ve been alive. Nor have the neo-pagans said anything about a “war on Yule.” Same for the other winter holidays which are lesser-known but still exist in some cultures. Yet for the past few years there’s been some kind of “war on Christmas” every year, if you believe those who call it that. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out who the true warmongers are given the above.

To the zealots who have so much free time to spend looking for a “war on Christmas”: How about spending your time on something useful instead? How about waking up and realizing that it is not a “war on Christmas” just because a company opts for simplicity and inclusiveness? It’s a damn coffee cup. Get over it. Sheesh.

To Starbucks, size matters

I almost didn’t get around to writing about this one while it was still somewhat timely. However, we’re still three months away from the actual change happening on a nationwide basis and there is no shortage of blog posts weighing in on this story, some of which are still being written as I’m putting the finishing touches on this one.

CultureMap Houston’s recent story about Starbucks introducing a new Trenta size takes a rather dim view of it. The story’s author, Dillon Sorenson, appears to be of the mindset that this is a contribution to the growing obesity problem in the US.

First a summary for those of you just now catching up. Starbucks is well known for its oddly named sizes: Tall (354 mL), which is actually the smallest of the three; Grande (473 mL), which, while larger than Tall, is still not the largest; and Venti (591 mL), which comes from the Italian word for “twenty” (the size is about 20 ounces). Starting in May, Starbucks will be adding a fourth size, the Trenta (916 mL), which again is derived from an Italian word, this one for “thirty” (though it’s actually closer to 31 ounces; you can hardly blame Starbucks for the fact “Trentuno” wouldn’t flow off the tongue quite as easily.

Anyway, Mr. Sorenson makes a rather dubious comparison to 7-Eleven’s infamous Big Gulp fountain drinks:

How big is 916 mL, you ask? Well, an average bottle of wine is 750 mL, and the average capacity of the human stomach is 900 mL. In other words, the Trenta is Starbucks’ version of the Big Gulp.

And later on, the more direct accusation that the Trenta is part of our obesity problem:

My vehement opposition to the Trenta is not about my snobbery. It’s about what this symbolizes for America. In a nation where 75 percent of the adult population is overweight or obese, the Trenta is the last thing that is needed. Of course, drinking coffee in such large quantities is bad for the brain and heart alike. But the caffeine is the least of my concerns: I am more worried about the sugar-filled syrupy beverages that Starbucks distributes under the guise of coffee.

Though I am not a huge fan of Starbucks, I find myself defending them here. First, Starbucks is doing what almost any corporation is destined to do: maximize profits. It would appear adding an additional size for its iced drinks is an attempt to do just that. I personally have wished that the sizes for at least iced tea didn’t stop at Venti for some time. (My usual order at Starbucks and similar coffee shops is iced tea, however sometimes during the coldest of the winter months I will order hot chocolate.)

And that leads into my second point: Starbucks wouldn’t be doing this if the demand wasn’t there. Again, you can’t fault Starbucks for giving the people what they want. If Starbucks doesn’t do it, their competitors will and take the profits away from Starbucks in the process.

My third point is a challenge to the notion that slightly larger portions of coffee and tea really contribute to an obesity problem. It would be far more effective for Mr. Sorenson to attack the many c-store operators that sell fountain drinks larger than whatever size he feels they should be. I’ve purchased and consumed 64-ounce fountain drinks (yes, that’s half a gallon) during my heyday as a courier. In hindsight, I’ll admit this was not one of my healthier choices; in fairness to me, I’m trying to avoid returning to that line of work as it was full of similar choices, a rant I’ll save for another day (and perhaps a different blog).

Even so, the demand is still there for super-sized products; while Mr. Sorenson’s angst and disgust may be justified, I think they are misdirected. Without demand, there is usually no supply. So, if anything, Mr. Sorenson should just ask the people out there “please don’t buy Trenta-sized drinks at Starbucks so they go away.” The only problem with that, of course, is that the hollowness of the entire viewpoint he espouses is then exposed to the sunlight.

My fourth point is in regards to economy of scale, with a bit of an environmentalist twist. I’ve been more than a casual observer of sizing and prices, especially with regard to sodas. It’s not entirely by choice, as I have more experience than I could ever want dealing with tight budgets. I postulate that the size of the drinks offered at Starbucks will do little to actually change purchase and consumption habits of their products, and from that and my other previous knowledge, I offer two points of theory: first, the same customers who would buy a Trenta-sized iced tea or iced coffee would probably just wind up buying two of a smaller size, and second, that it takes less material to make larger (Trenta) cups totaling a given capacity than it does smaller (Venti, Grande, Tall) cups. And from that, I conclude not only does a larger size make sense from a profitability standpoint, but from an environmentalist standpoint as well.

Yes, it’s a bit of a reach, and one that I’ll probably draw some heat for. But really, it all comes back to Starbucks doing what its customers are willing to pay for, providing a supply to satisfy a demand and make a profit. If you think a Trenta is too big, don’t buy it. But please, stay out of the way of those of us who want one.