I feel like I haven’t seen so many people freak out about some cups since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Starbucks has done it again with their seasonal cup! Last week we saw backlash against the unity cups. Which, funny enough, isn’t their seasonal holiday cup that last year stirred up negative sentiments as not being “Christmas-y” enough.

I’ve written about brand loyalty and things that get me to love a brand that I stand by in my previous posts, and with Starbucks cups making headlines again I begin to wonder, are these cups deal breakers?

Deviating from their standard white cup with green emblazoned mermaid logo, Starbucks tries to stay fresh and current with their seasonally designed cups. I’ve seen the fall ones in the past with lovely little drawn leaves, but didn’t hear much about it. Then they came out with the red holiday cup last year and I feel like this is when I started to hear the buzz around it.

Last year, Starbucks launched their red holiday cup and members of the public felt that it was an attack on Christmas and Christianity. A few days ago their green Unity cups have been said to come with a political agenda about the upcoming election and are a form of political brainwashing, again with some even saying it’s “waging war on Christianity.”

I’m not a Starbucks insider who knows whether or not they’re intentionally inciting their audience to get reactions and headlines in the media, but honestly, sometimes brands can miss the mark on an innocent attempt to stay relevant. However, I do have an idea what might actually be going on.

As a co-owner for a small café, I deal with guests having a lot of feedback about the shop and our products, not of the same magnitude of what Starbucks deals with, but it’s definitely a glimpse into why they try so hard. From seasonal cups to several different drink recipes, they’re trying to please everyone. Speaking to former employees at the retail level it’s likely brand communication from corporate to retail level is where the problem is. I believe their attempts result in over complicated job roles for their staff and a loss in translation from brand to consumer.

Just yesterday I visited a café where the drink menu had only five items listed with no size options. I don’t exactly know how many items are on a Starbucks menu but I’m guessing it could likely be between ten and thirty, depending on location, they’ve got sizes as large as twenty ounces and as small as two ounces (for espresso shots), and aside from seasonal drinks they might be advertising, they also have a “secret drink menu” that people somehow find out about. Their staff is expected to know quite a bit more than how to operate the brewing machinery, handle the cash, interact with customers, along with the extensive menu and several seasonal changes to the menu and explanation behind their latest cups. There’s likely a disconnect from the well-meaning corporate team that thought the cups would bring unity, to the already overwhelmed service team behind the counter.

Overall, Starbucks will continue to have plenty of business, however, simplicity is key to success when it comes to brand continuity. The easier it is for the staff to understand and memorize information for the brand they’re representing; the message clarity is less likely to be misconstrued.