The Subtle Politics of the Starbucks Green Cup

November 1st 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Tuesday marked the annual unveiling of the Starbucks seasonal cup — and a lot of people are confused about its messaging. The green cup (which lacks the traditional Starbucks Siren), features a "mosaic of more than a hundred people drawn in one continuous stroke" — and a subtle political message.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz — who endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in September — said the cup represents "the connections Starbucks has as a community with its partners (employees) and customers," in a press release. But the next line is where things get (subtly) political.

"During a divisive time in our county, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other," Schultz added.

As The Atlantic's Megan Garber wrote, the language Schultz employed in the press release seemed to echo verbiage heard on the campaign trail. Starbucks "just put, essentially, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on its cups. It brought politics into the holiday season — in the guise, of course, of transcending politics during this holiday season."

Though Starbucks has traditionally released its holiday cups on November 1 each year, the timing of this particular release has raised eyebrows. It comes exactly one week before Election Day, in the heat of an inarguably divisive campaign. (Starbucks hasn't confirmed whether the green cup will replace its usual red holiday cup design, the Associated Press reported.)

The implicit politics of the Starbucks green cup follows another kind of tradition, however. The company and its CEO have established track records of wading into political issues. In March, for example, Starbucks took out two-page ads in both the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal lambasting the "hatred and vitriol" of the 2016 presidential election cycle. An accompanying illustration contrasted words that are sometimes used to characterize the campaigns of Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

"This is not about the choice we make every four years," the text of the ad read. "This is about the choices we make every single day."