Starbucks has unveiled a new cup design and yet again, the coffee giant has found itself in the middle of an online “controversy.” Get used to it Starbucks (SBUX). This is a new normal for you.
The story began to unfold on Tuesday, when Starbucks issued a seemingly innocuous press release announcing the debut of a new cup that “celebrates community.” The cup, which debuted at U.S. stores on November 1 for a limited time, featured a mosaic of more than 100 people with a design mean to “create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other,” Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said.
What happened next was as predictable as the fact that the sun will rise and set again tomorrow. Complaints were lobbied at Starbucks via social media channels like Twitter.
That complaint exemplified the tone of the gripes. And in response, media outlets wrote quick stories addressing the controversy, with some of those outlets wrongly saying the green cup was an official holiday cup from the coffee purveyor.
It isn’t. Starbucks confirmed to Fortune that the green cup was simply a limited time design feature, not a new holiday-themed cup. “The rest of our holiday plans are still under wraps,” a spokeswoman told Fortune.
While the official holiday cup hasn’t been released, people will certainly find something to complain about when it is made public. There are some alleged leaked images of the new cup floating around on Reddit, showing a red cup that depicts a bird and some foliage. The “War on Christmas” continues—where’s Santa Claus?
If all this sounds familiar, it should. Starbucks generated major news coverage in 2015 when the simplistic design of the holiday cup—a crisp red cup adorned only by the mermaid corporate logo—was deemed too dismissive of Christmas.
Starbucks is in an unwinnable position here. Use images of Santa Claus or anything overtly Christian and they will be accused of going with a design that isn’t inclusive. But if the design isn’t “Christmas” enough, some Christians complain. Even Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump lamented the 2015 design during the primaries a year ago.
Ultimately, Starbucks has found itself established as a cultural touchstone with a few other select companies and brands. Other notable examples include Walmart (WMT), McDonald’s (MCD) and Apple (AAPL). People have strong opinions about these brands. Any news they generate results in some negative fodder.
It is important to add that in some ways, Starbucks sometimes brings on controversy by its own actions. While Schultz seems genuinely disturbed by the divisive tone of this year’s presidential election, he’s also picking sides. Earlier this year, he formally endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and even said he thinks she will win the election. Other notable cultural stances Schultz has backed include support for marriage equality and a call for open discussions about race at Starbucks stores (the latter movement was quickly scrapped). Starbucks even found itself in the center of a national debate on guns a few years ago.
More complaints will likely pop up whenever Starbucks gets around to debuting the new 2016 holiday cup. But don’t expect the wait at your local Starbucks to shorten. Through it all, Starbucks has reported years of same-store sales increases at domestic stores. A “controversial” cup design won’t stop that.