Anyone who lives on the West Coast knows of Starbucks, whether they drink coffee or not. Actually, everyone may know of Starbucks because there are over 16,000 stores world wide. When the Seattle-based company first began, their logo consisted of a twin-tailed siren, or a melusine.
The siren is another name for mermaids who lure sailors to their deaths upon the rocks of the tumultuous ocean. The melusine specifically refers to a mermaid with a bifurcated tail and is based on a French legend of a woman called Melusine who lived with a man for years before the lure of the sea called her back. Other versions have her with a serpent tail.
From the 15th century woodblock print of the siren was Starbucks’ logo derived. Wikipedia lists it as coming from a 16th century “Norse” print, however that should be Nordic or Norwegian as the Norse way was long past by that time. In the Middle Ages, tales of mermaids and sirens and other mythic creatures prevailed about the unknown, caves, oceans and other foreign shores.
It was accepted as part of the culture, and Starbucks, through various searches and reasons, chose the siren, partly to represent the Pacific coast on which they began. The original Starbucks logo isn’t seen in many places anymore, unless the rumors of it being resurrected are true. However, the first store in Pike Place Market in Seattle still sports that original siren.
Now, along the way I heard, and therefore cannot support this with fact, that people complained about the breasts showing on the Starbucks logo. Uh, breasts? Oh right, those horrid beasts tarnishing young minds with their luridness. After all, it’s not like half the population has them, nor that most people began life suckled at them. But noooo, breasts are wrong and dirty and naughty, especially those of a cartoony print from the Middle Ages and on a mermaid. Eeek! How terrible. However, Starbucks bowed to public(?) pressure or the weird complaints of a few and did the first censoring of their siren.
Now it could be a mermaid upgrade was in the works anyways and this may be what their official stand would be but I found it ludicrous at the time that a logo was changed because of breasts. As it was, the new siren was more stylized. But her breasts were gone behind cascading locks. You could say that Starbucks started the process of Disneyfication, making Melusine bland and acceptable to any prude out there.
But that wasn’t the end of the silliness. As you can see from the logo on the right, the dual tails have become even more stylized. However, whereas the original looks like two ends of a tail being held, these now actually are more suggestive of a woman holding her legs over her head (Or maybe she’s holding towels before she gets in her bath). Hmm. Perhaps the original prints were made to suggest that mariners had sexual congress with denizens of the deep (hence the tail bifurcation) but genitalia is significantly not there in either picture. So you can guess what the next complaint was. It looks as if a woman is spreading her legs in sexual flagrancy. Off with the tail!
Starbucks really wanted to keep their coastal roots but were now kowtowing to every complainer out there who thought they were championing moral decency but were yet again vilifying the human body, while remaining mum on all those shows that depict bloody and violent mayhem. So Starbucks changed their logo yet again. If the siren is still included on Starbucks products today it is in the form of this new, not so improved logo. Ask most people and they probably don’t even know what that gal is holding in her hands. Weird flowers? Carved wood? Tasty treats? Fish sticks? Guess away.
There is one aspect to branding, which is about recognizable symbols and popularity. There is another aspect, which is bowing to perceived public pressure and constantly changing one’s image. I think Starbucks should have stuck to their guns but then they’re not hurting for money no matter how they brand themselves now. However, if I had to vote for the logo I liked best, I’d still like the first one as being more intriguing and identifiable. What do you think?