The highly-recognizable branding of Starbucks Coffee gets a yearly overhaul in the winter months, one that has faced its fair share of criticism since the special edition cups began in 1997. But this year, the design is extra special. Who designed the Starbucks red cups this year? Actually, a lot of people did.
Starbucks put out a call last fall for people to submit festive designs, and they ultimately chose 12 to feature. They'll also still have the plain red cup from last year, totaling this year's cup designs to 13. All the new designs were designed by women and came from six countries worldwide. They had more than 1,000 customer designs to choose from, which were submitted through Instagram.
“We hope that this year’s red holiday cup designs express the shared spirit of the holidays as told by our customers,” said Sharon Rothstein, Starbucks global chief marketing officer, in a press release on the Starbucks website on Wednesday. The press release also pointed out that customers have been decorating their cups for years, and that's where they got the idea for a contest (with the hashtag #RedCupArt), from which they would select new designs to bring to life this holiday season.
The contest, which started last fall, also came on the heels of criticism from customers who thought last year's design — which was just a plain, red cup — wasn't "festive enough." Although many supported the design, too, since there has been an ongoing challenge for brands to decide whether they will be "non-denominational" in their holiday products, as to not ostracize customer bases that don't celebrate or observe Christian holidays, like Christmas.
It's been called the "War on Christmas," and it's been raging in America for years, and Starbucks certainly wasn't on the first company to be at the center of it. It actually started more than fifty years ago, and was rooted in anti-semitism. The alt-right of the day responded to Jewish communities that expressed disappointment and frustration at being overlooked in department stores, schools, and other places where Christmas is celebrated.
One of the first people to widely disseminate the idea of the War on Christmas was Henry Ford, who wrote: “People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.”
The idea has always been that more inclusive "Happy Holidays" greetings that don't specify Christmas, or Jesus Christ, is not only more beneficial for businesses (who arguably shouldn't want to discourage potential customers) but in settings where people of different backgrounds congregate, like schools, it wouldn't erase non-Christians. But conservative groups, who are predominantly Christian, feel that these wider-net greetings effectively erase their experience, because they do not specifically celebrate Christmas.
Starbucks, as a brand, seems to have found a compromise that many other people haven't reached yet: they provided the canvas onto which people could inscribe the holiday greetings that meant something to them — or not! By also having the option to leave the cup blank, non-secular groups don't have to feel overwhelmed by the sometimes intense and intrusive holiday spirit, either. The customers who designed the 12 cups being featured this year — again, all women — come from a variety of backgrounds, and celebrate not just the special time of year, but commemorate special times in the artist's lives, too: one of the designers, Samantha, from Pennsylvania, drew her cup while on maternity leave, “My daughter was three weeks old and I was doodling during nap times.”