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Fenina Gerero

26 Years of Red Cups – Unrolling Starbucks’ Holiday Campaigns

When it comes to holiday campaigns, brands ride on it routinely, but only a few brands truly stand out every single time. One of the renowned brands that has shown continuous success in its holiday campaigns and proven its test of time is Starbucks. Especially here in the Philippines, you can argue that people truly await this campaign every single year. But why is that so? In this article, we’ll be tackling Starbucks’ holiday campaign strategies to learn why it works so well and how it continues to garner its audience’s attention.

Looking Back at Starbucks’ Holiday Campaign History

Starbucks is the pioneer of the marketing phenomenon that led simple red cups to become icons of the holiday season. It was 1997 when Starbucks first came out with the brilliant idea that has withstood the test of time and continues to excite everyone around the world. The first-ever set of holiday cups was designed with shades of magenta, sapphire, and emerald and purple. Eventually, Starbucks switched to the classic holiday red by 1999 and that was when the icon was born. Red cups became so big that it became a pop culture reference! Instead of countdown clocks, people would be waiting for cups to be red again. Red cups popped up from social media platforms to even TV talk shows and till today, this continues! That’s why, yearly, Starbucks keeps giving its coffee cups a festive makeover topped off with new holiday drinks and returning Christmas favorites such as the iconic Peppermint Mocha and famous crowd favorite, Pumpkin Spice Latte. The red cup by Starbucks not only sends a message that it’s Christmas time, but it also excites its customers for its limited-time offers and well-beloved favorites.

Starbucks’ Holiday Campaign Elements and Strategies

This Starbucks tradition of launching festive holiday campaigns to coincide with the holiday season, which usually begins in November and runs through December. Often highly anticipated by its customers all over the world, Starbucks’ Red Cup campaign features a variety of elements, including:

  • Red Cups as their Holiday Symbol that Increases Brand Awareness

Holiday-themed decorations, menus and merchandise are done everywhere, but the Red Cups are what set Starbucks apart from other brands. Despite Starbucks’ number of holiday offers, its iconic red holiday cups are what stitch everything together. It’s become their signature holiday theme and symbol. To Starbucks customers, these cups signal the start of the holiday season and stir up noise to hype the brand’s incoming offers that will make festivities better. Red Cups are like Starbucks’ Christmas Tree to their Christmas and their heart to their Valentines.

Red Cups are now an iconic symbol that can’t be separated from Starbucks branding, especially during holidays. This strategy shows the importance of customers’ brand awareness and recognition.

  • Holiday Drinks and Christmas Merchandise as their Limited-Time Offers

Seasonal drinks and food are one of Starbucks’ strengths as a brand, provided the number of people who await what they have new to offer, such as introducing a range of holiday-themed beverages and food items like peppermint, caramel brulée and more. These items are typically served in special holiday-themed cups and packaging. Apart from its food and beverages, Starbucks also shines with its limited-edition merchandise, often releasing limited-edition holiday planners, mugs, tumblers and even holiday-themed coffee blends! Some of these merchandise serve as popular gifts and even make it to people’s wish lists.

These limited-time offers are a great way to entice your audience through urgency. Highlighting that certain products are limited during a certain time encourages customers to make decisions sooner than later. The fear of an offer ending can prompt impulse purchases and taps into the fear of missing out, which is a great purchasing motivator.

  • Collecting Stickers for a Starbucks Planner as their Reward for Customer Loyalty

The Starbucks Planner was first introduced to the Philippines in 2004 and was the first to use the sticker system, where 65 stickers were required to get three notebooks (back then, Starbucks planners were simple spiral notebooks). But through the years, Starbucks upped its planner game by changing the mechanics of the sticker system, which now only requires 18 stickers for one Starbucks Planner. Eventually, integrating themes, more intricate designs, adding perks or freebies and even partnering with companies such as Pantone and Moleskin.

The mechanics of the sticker system is a type of marketing strategy that rewards customers for coming back, prompting repeat business. Customers get perks for every beverage purchase, making them feel appreciated and rewarded with, in this case, the ever-so-popular Starbucks Planner. In simpler terms, this strategy basically encourages customer loyalty.

Why Starbucks’ Holiday Campaign Works and What You Should Learn from It

One can argue that some brands have done the same things for their brand but aren’t experiencing the same success Starbucks achieved. Aside from the fact that Starbucks is a globally popular brand with higher capacity, it’s still best to understand that, in the end, your holiday strategy should be personalized to what works best for your brand. Make sure your holiday campaign fits you, as well as the Red Cups campaign fits Starbucks. The Red Cups campaign can stand on its own and people immediately recognize that it’s Starbucks. Why? They picked the perfect representation of their brand. So maybe you should try picking the right icon that represents your brand, too!

One more note: don’t rush your campaign. Experiment and see what works best. If you look back on Starbucks history, the Red Cups campaign wasn’t the immediate idea and it didn’t boom immediately either. They first started with purple cups and, after a few tries, eventually got to the red cups. This shows that trial and error is essential.


The pop culture phenomenon of Red Cups remains iconic every holiday season and has become a symbol in the holidays to the point that if Starbucks doesn’t release red cups, Christmas wouldn’t feel the same. Starbucks’ holiday campaign is a great case to see how established brands found their place in their customers’ holidays. It shows how a well thought holiday campaign can really help brands make an impact on people, from their mundane holiday practices to their celebrations.

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