Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New Starbucks Logo is Localization Friendly

Four logos in 40 years
Starbucks announced today the roll-out of its new logo as of March 2011, when the company celebrates its 40th anniversary. The main change is the elimination of the words "Starbucks Coffee" from the iconic brand image.

The new wordless version of the logo -- in addition to allowing the company to expand its product offerings beyond coffee -- makes it easier to penetrate more international markets, especially those that don't use latin characters. The company already has 400 stores in China and plans to open more in the future.

Branding people at Starbucks monitored the performance of companies like Nike and Apple, which had earned enough recognition with consumers to drop the words from their logos.

From a localization perspective, using words in logos generates branding issues that require several types of adaptation. These are not unsurmountable, but might be avoided by using only images.

Coca-Cola is a good example. The brand is in virtually every country in the world and sounds basically the same everywhere. However, its famous trademark needs to be displayed in different scripts according to the locale where the product is sold.

Another problem with word-based brands is pronunciation. SC Johnson launched the line of Glade Air Fresheners in Brazil as Gleid (so that Brazilians could pronounce it correctly and not as the word glad). It has only recently relaunched the brand with the English spelling after research showed that the brand had become a household name with something close the English sound.

A very good practice when it comes to brands in international markets is to perform a linguistic brand assessment to ensure that the words mean what they are supposed to mean. You want to make sure that the written and pronounced words don't have any negative or derogatory connotations in foreign languages.  I always remember an assessment for, which sounds like "my urine" in Spanish. Or Chana Motors in Brazil, which sounds like a vulgar word for vagina in Brazil (thanks to Daniela do Carmo).

Finally, another element to take into consideration is color. An excellent recent post in the COLOURlovers blog about top web brands and a study by Interbrand about corporate brands show that blue is the dominant color among the top brands. Starbucks seems to be the only corporate brand that will use only green as it is brand color.

If you know of any interesting stories about global branding, please add a comment and share it with us.

Starbucks in Russia


  1. It's interesting to compare the logos of global brands with and without words. Coca-Cola is a successful global brand, so it's not to say that using words in the logo is does raise issues, though. Personally, I consider a wordless logo to be more elegant.

  2. Susanna11:19 AM

    I think that being wordless does not really mean "localization friendly". Just not having words to localize inside a logo (although a simpler route) is no guarantee of success in another culture. In fact in some cultures, the English words have become the recognizable pointers for the brand.

    US Brand = English words.

    I do agree about the need for a "linguistic assessment" before moving to other cultures, although sometimes too much is made of those little old anecdotes about English words in other cultures...

    That mermaid picture, to me, does not necessarily spell coffee and other goods in any culture or language, even if I live here in the US.

  3. And yesterday's announcement of the streamlined Starbucks logo is just the beginning. Future versions of the Starbucks logo are sure to bring more rationalization, making it ever more streamlined and localization friendly!

  4. Anonymous12:38 PM

    However there are very few wordless logos around that are easily (and correctly) recognized. The Apple is one, the Mercedes star is another and the Nike "woosh". Someone did a study where people where asked to name logos shown to them - that worked pretty well although it went downhill after these three. But then people where asked to draw the logos for brands they were told. Mercedes was the strongest IIRC and Nike a close second. Apple was doing OK although the apple's missing part was neglected or put onto the wrong side of the apple.
    I doubt that Starbucks' logo will become one of the easily recognizable ones - it's not simplistic enough.

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  6. The brand Gleid is 'Glad' in pt-BR and 'Brise' in pt-PT! Very different.

  7. I wrote about this very same issue last Friday :) You can find my take on the new Starbucks logo here:

    I think we're pretty much in agreement that this is a powerful step toward a new, more cost-effectively global Starbucks.

  8. I think that it's better for the company since it would be different everywhere. Thanks.