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Starbucks has launched a holiday ad featuring two women about to kiss, and an older white woman holding hands in a park with a man wearing a taqiyah, a type of skull cap often worn by Muslims.
"The holidays mean something different to everyone," states text during the 30-second animated ad, which features a hand-drawn white dove flying towards the couple in the park, a young woman talking to an elderly relative via her laptop, people of different races decorating a Christmas tree and two women about to kiss as fireworks appear.
For Allen Adamson, founder and CEO of BrandSimple Consulting, using animation allows Starbucks to have control of its message. "They are leaning in to the issue of this country needs to come together across all lines and by making it an animation it's a little softer and potentially less polarizing," he told CNBC by phone.
A Starbucks spokesperson told CNBC that its video marks the start of the holiday period, and added in an emailed statement: "Each year during the holidays, we aim to bring our customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season and we will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world." The animated film is featured on Starbucks social channels.
Starbucks is known for its focus on inclusion, with chairman and CEO Howard Schultz publicly supporting the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality in 2015.
In 2013, a stockholder at a shareholders' annual meeting stated his view that the company had lost customers because of its support for gay marriage and Schultz responded: "Not every decision is an economic decision. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company."
Starbucks added coverage of transgender reassignment surgery to its health benefits in 2013 and, in January 2017, announced that it aimed to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022.
When Starbucks turns its cups red it marks the start of the holiday season for coffee-lovers, who can indulge themselves in drinks such as chestnut praline latte and peppermint mocha. They even attracted comment from Donald Trump before he became president; he criticized their plain design in 2015 for not being Christmassy enough.
But this year's cups aren't all-red; instead they have red detailing with plenty of white space, and illustrations of gifts, a tree and two hands holding each other.
"This year's cup is intentionally designed to encourage our customers to add their own color and illustrations," said Leanne Fremar, executive creative director for Starbucks, in an online statement. "We love the idea of everyone making this year's cup their own."
For Adamson, this is a smart way of communication. "It represents a new way of marketing which is to engage and involve your consumer not just talk to them, or communicate with them," he told CNBC.
Starbucks said it started working on the design in January and decided to go with a color-in version because it said many customers liked to draw on the cups. The Seattle-based chain said most of its nearly 5,000 U.S. locations will have colored pencils available for customers to borrow.
Why should people care about Starbucks' cup design? "Because it is such a huge ubiquitous brand that what they do sets the standard, or sets the norm, it's almost part of the fabric of America, the Starbucks brand," Adamson said.