There’s a psychological reason you’re obsessed with Starbucks’ red cups

Posted by
Gemma Crisp

Along with Christmas lights appearing on Oxford Street and mince pies lurking on the shelves of Waitrose, one of the first signs that the festive countdown has begun is when Starbucks swaps its regular white and green takeaway cups for red versions.

While the exact date is a closely guarded secret – all we’re allowed to reveal is that it will be sometime in November – it has become an annual event in the calendars of Christmas fanatics around the globe (so much so that an unofficial fan site exists called

First introduced in the United States in 1997, the initial collection of special cups came in jewel tones – deeper reds, blues and greens – but these were discarded in favour of red the following year and they have stayed red ever since.

“Red is a foreign object in the Starbucks colour universe, thus the red cup clearly stands out, generating attention,” explains branding consultant Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. “By only using this colour, Starbucks could establish the ritual in consumers’ minds in a more effective way.”

Starbucks isn’t the first company to harness red to create an annual emotive moment – in 1931 Coca-Cola introduced the modern-day version of Santa Claus in their holiday advertising (although their red cans didn’t appear until 1955).

But according to colour psychologist Angela Wright, the specific shade of red is all important.

“Red is the colour that grabs our attention first – it stimulates physically, raising the pulse rate and blood pressure,” she says. “The wrong red can convert all the fun and excitement into aggression and arguments.

“The specific shade of red that Starbucks uses is spot-on for the purpose – a rich, warm red that’s not too lurid. It captures and expresses the Christmas spirit perfectly.”

With the 2017 cup design and seasonal drink flavours under wraps until next month, you’re just going to have to wait and hope you’re on Santa’s good list…