The other day I visited Starbucks after a hike. I ordered a tall latte and, as I waited on the barista, wandered around the store. I perused the obligatory black-and-white art, the collection of coffee mugs, and a rambling mess of Starbucks paraphernalia. When I had made an almost complete circle back to the barista, I caught sight of a small cardboard stand-up. It proudly boasted Starbucks’ logo, hovering over a small paragraph of text.
As far as my imperfect memory recalls, the paragraph read something like this:
“The Siren. According to myth her song was beautiful and irresistible. We still can’t resist her.”
I cocked my head and re-read the justification for their logo once more. When I was certain I had read correctly, I started looking around me with an incredulous look on my face. No one else seemed bothered by what I noticed.
Based on my brief observation, I began to suspect that Starbucks suffered from a terrible disorder called mytholitis – that is, a condition in which one fails to recall mythological stories accurately or completely. Either they suffer from this terrible condition or, I’m afraid, they selectively retold this myth to hide an obvious truth about their product.
According to this cardboard prophet, Starbucks justifies the Siren in its logo because this creature was beautiful and irresistible to sailors. To the casual observer, this advertising sends a warm subliminal message which depicts hard working sailors (us – the consumer) being humored by the song of a beautiful woman (Starbucks). The appeal of this narrative – being pleased by a member of the opposite sex – is obvious. To rehash the Siren myth in this way, however, is a patent oversimplification.
As anyone who does not suffer from mytholitis could tell you, the real myth recounts a more tragic story of the Sirens. They were ugly humanoids – half bird, half woman in appearance – and were entirely wicked. When unsuspecting ships would sail by Sirenum scopuli, the three rocky islands where the Sirens made their home, these creatures would begin to sing. Men who heard their ethereal voices became enchanted. Incensed, they sought to find the source of the music no matter the danger. Usually this meant turning their ships towards the noise and blindly sallying forth, wrecking their ships upon the rocks surrounding the Sirens’ islands and drowning, unfulfilled.
Initially, I was concerned that Starbucks was incorrectly rehashing a myth to justify their misuse of an icon. In hindsight, maybe that icon is appropriate – when the myth is correctly remembered. After all, Starbucks coffees aren’t necessarily healthy for us and, for many Starbucks regulars, their product does seem dangerously irresistible. Perhaps their marketing gurus put out this message to amuse themselves, fully cognizant of the fact that there are two vastly different ways of reading their logo: an incorrect way, which they’re peddling to consumers everyday; and a correct way, which would warn consumers away from heeding the Starbucks Siren’s call.