For some reason, Starbucks keeps trying to coax its customers to share a bit more over their coffee cups.
And this year, its annual red holiday cup became fodder for a little less charitable sharing. Devoid of the seasonal snowflakes, ornaments and reindeer of yore, this year’s plain red cup stirred a bit of noise on social media.
Perhaps that was part of the company’s intent to generate a little buzz, however negative and extreme some of the instant reviews sounded.
"Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus," Joshua Feuerstein, who described himself as an evangelist, Internet and social media personality, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.
His post was cited repeatedly on all sides of the cup issue including by those who found his objections overly frothy.
One person posted on Twitter that "maybe if the Starbucks Xmas folks want to further their cause they could take their latte money & donate it to a soup kitchen or something."
Still, the protests were so loud that Starbucks sought on Sunday to clarify its decision to remove the holiday symbols. In a statement on its website, the company said it took its cue from "customers who have been doodling designs on cups for years."
"This year’s design is another way Starbucks is inviting customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas," the company said.
The cups, however, are more Mark Rothko painting than empty page: Starbucks said they featured "a two-toned ombre design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below."
Jeffrey Fields, the vice president for design and content at Starbucks, said in a statement that the company "wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."
"Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays," he added. "We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it."
This is not the first time Starbucks has drawn attention with its cups. In March, the coffee company introduced an initiative meant to stimulate conversations about race relations that instead raised intense criticism.
Of course, any time a company changes its packaging, it is bound to attract some grumblings. When Tropicana, for instance, changed the design on cartons for its Pure Premium orange juice in 2009, consumers were outraged. The brand quickly backpedaled, removing the new symbol — a glass of orange juice — and replacing it with the longtime orange-with-a-straw logo.
And for those longing for the seasonal flavors, Starbucks has not forgone the tradition of peppermint- and cinnamon-infused lattes.
"They clearly believe in the holidays — they have special blends, they have gingerbread," said Jim Stengel, a business consultant and former chief marketing officer at Procter & Gamble.
"I don’t think they’re playing any games," he added. "It’s clearly still a holiday cup."