Starbucks unveils holiday cups; last year’s versions drove big traffic gains

Marianne Wilson
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holiday cups

It’s holiday time again at Starbucks.

The coffee giant unveiled its 2019 holiday cups, which will be available in stores starting on Nov. 7.

The cups come in four seasonal designs, in shades of red, white and Starbucks’ signature green. There is also a reusable holiday cup, which Starbucks is giving away free to customers who order a holiday drink on Nov. 7. For a limited time during the holiday season, customers who use the cup will get 50 cents off select beverages after 2 p.m. (The reusable cup was so popular last year that Starbucks’ stores quickly ran out of them.)

When Starbucks released its holiday cup last year, the company saw footfall traffic to its locations nearly double in just a few days, according to location intelligence and consumer insights company Cuebiq. Specifically, Starbucks had about half a million visits the day before the launch (Nov. 1) and nearly a million visits two days later (Nov. 4).

Starbucks first debuted its holiday cups in 1997 and, over the years, some of the designs have sparked controversy among critics on the right for not being Christmasy enough. Similar to last year, however, this year’s cup designs are unlikely to raise any sort of arguments. Typography is used as the main illustrative element for three of the designs, with whole letters rotated for a musical, song-like quality, while polka dots cover the fourth. Each cup design has a unifying green stripe on the back, finishing the cup like a ribbon.

“We came up with this idea of wrapping the stores in holiday joy and wrapping the cups like a gift to our partners and customers,” said Jen Quotson, VP of Starbucks Creative. “We wanted coming to Starbucks to be like uncovering a present.”

The designers also found other ways to bring the cups to life. For the first time, they also designed a series of holiday ads. The ads build off the cup designs and include a green dot sledding down a mountain of whipped cream or red ribbon twirling around a Starbucks cup. The designs carry over to a partnership with Instagram where customers can use a new interactive feature to animate elements of the cup to share through their accounts. 

Starbucks is also partnering with Alaska Airlines. Patrons who arrive at their airport gate with a Starbucks holiday cup will receive priority boarding on Alaska Airlines flights Nov. 7-10. And passengers on select West Coast flights may even board a holiday-themed aircraft, with some even finding a surprise from Starbucks on their seats.

In addition to the cups, Starbucks is launching an array of seasonal beverages and food and bakery items, ranging from eggnog latte to turkey and panini to snowman cake pops.