In 1993, after a dispute with his record label, rock superstar Prince legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. The controversy generated tons of press and for years he was referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince."
This week, Starbucks, commemorating its 40th birthday, unveiled a new logo that loses the words "Starbucks" and "Coffee" and consists solely of the Melusine, a two-tailed, mermaid-like figure that has been part of the logo from the beginning.
The change has prompted a significant outcry from the faithful, increased chatter around the worldwide water cooler and caused marketing, media and design professionals everywhere to begin spontaneously spouting their opinions.
Some are screaming "Change it back," while others are scratching their heads trying to figure out why a company would take its name off the masthead. Judging from the initial press, a minority of people believe it could be a good idea.
- Starbucks logo gets a new look.
The controversy is easy to understand on the surface. Starbucks is, after all, the largest coffeehouse chain in the world. There are 11,000 stores in the United States alone and another 7,000 spread throughout 50 other countries.
The brand is built on the powerful and unique relationship the company has built with its consumers by catering to their coffee nuances with an army of 150,000 baristas.
To tens of thousands of its customers, Starbucks' messing with the logo may amount to challenging a personal preference by fiddling with the familiar. But, as a business move, it is bold and defensible.
Each time Starbucks has made a significant change -- adding espresso beverages and going public -- it has updated its logo.
Now, at 40, the company has decided to position itself to expand outside of coffee and tea as a focus, perhaps even adding wine and beer after hours. In post-recession America, companies willing to take on risks to spur growth by reinventing themselves are still a rare commodity.
Target's bull's-eye, AT&T's iconic blue marble and Apple's apple are all examples of a symbol representing a brand. We need to look no further than Prince, whose single released after his name change, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," was a smash hit and remains his only No. 1 hit in the U.K.
It would also be wise to remember that Prince reclaimed his name seven years later and continued recording without missing a beat.
New Logo Didn't Work for the Gap
Many people are comparing the Starbucks logo change to the Gap fiasco of October when the retailer buckled to consumer backlash against its new logo and reverted back to the familiar blue box. The differences are significant.
The Starbucks logo was introduced front and center by CEO Howard Shultz, who explains the company's move in its website video as an evolution, pointing out that it embraces and respects the heritage of the old logo and noting how it leads changes in the company's direction.
The rollout planning for the decision will likely buy Starbucks the time it needs to allow its business decisions to be the final arbiter of whether this bold move was a wise one.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.