By Andrew Dmytrasz and Drew Ursel

Starbucks has been in the social media feeds recently over the design (or lack thereof) of its new holiday cups. It began when evangelist Josh Feuerstein launched a Twitter campaign against Starbucks’ festive red cup and declared it was a “war on Christmas.” But how many people do you know who were actually outraged by it? Has Starbucks declared war on Christmas, or is this all part of a PR campaign?

The PR implications cannot be clearer. What was once a debate over holiday “common sense” fought in the ideological trenches by liberals and conservatives alike, has morphed into a social media trend. Much like past spontaneous social media campaigns, Feuerstein’s motive is hard to crack. Is he an earnest Christian seeking broad grassroots support, or a savvy businessman seeking to expand his brand?

As for Starbucks, it may have believed its well thought-out Christmas cup campaign was a simple yet classy characterization of the holidays. However, this simplicity is the root of the #MerryChristmasStarbucks controversy causing a sizable number of online commenters to conclude the move was part of an intentional war on Christmas.

In a news release issued Nov. 8, 2015, Starbucks stated that this year’s red cup was to be seen as a blank canvas for customers to create their own designs. This mirrors the successful #WhiteCupContest from April 2014 that encouraged people to decorate the cups and submit their photos on social media. Starbucks received almost 4,000 entries in just three weeks. The winner of that contest had her design printed on a limited edition Starbucks reusable plastic cup.

According to Starbucks, this season’s simple red was meant as a jumping board for customers to tell their own holiday stories. It seems many on social media would agree #ItsJustACup.

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