Java Lovers ‘Red’ with Christmas Controversy

Last week marked the early launch of Starbucks’ holiday-themed red cups.

However, to many those cups aren’t “holiday” enough.

A new level of Starbucks backlash emerged when one zealous pastor from Arizona claimed that Starbucks was declaring a “war on Christmas” by removing the images of ornaments, snowmen and presents that have been known to adorn their famous red cups.

People who agreed with the pastor’s view joined him in a campaign against the coffee giant, in which they will order coffee and give the barista “Merry Christmas” as their name. This in essence forces the server to mention Christmas as they call out their name at the end of the line. The protestors would then take to social media and post their pictures with the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks. Even Donald Trump got involved, as he swore that if he got elected, they could all boycott Starbucks together.

Both sides of the debate exploded on social media. In retaliation, supporters of the chain and their minimalist red cups began to turn the argument back on those upset by them, claiming that it was protesters who were really forcing a war on Christmas. People questioned who was really ruining the “meaning of Christmas” and questioned the symbolism of snowflakes to mark the birth of Jesus. It was often pointed out that Starbucks still refers to their signature holiday coffee as Christmas Blend, and labeled the entire situation a “first world problem.”

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I couldn’t help but think what Forbes writer Katie Sola said in a recent article: the protesters still bought Starbucks products.

Starbucks stayed relatively quiet throughout the entire thing. In the end, the “controversy” (if you can call it that) this resulted in even more social and traditional media coverage for the chain. Public opinion was negative towards the protestors, not the chain. They eventually issued a press release explaining their choice for this year’s design, and announced the winners of their yearly red cup photo contest earlier than anticipated. For the most part, though, Starbucks remained focused, as they often are at this time, on their Veterans Day efforts. It’s as if they were entirely unfazed … as they should be.

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How would you have handled this situation? Do you think that silence was the way to go or would you have tried to address the situation more openly? What issues do you see that arise with the clash of brand management and religious beliefs, particularly around this time of year?

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