Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) can't seem to stay out of extra-hot water these days, and I've noticed one Starbucks-centric news story can't seem to cool off -- it just keeps circulating, judging by Google News alerts delivered to my email inbox. Most iterations of it include something about some woman somewhere getting offended by some quote on her Starbucks cup and giving up her daily fix.

I decided to write this story yesterday, but oddly enough, the quote in question ("The Way I See It #247") happens to be on my latte cup today. It questions why people turn to God instead of themselves during crises when God might not exist, and related news coverage centered around an Ohio woman who was offended to have been exposed to the quote. According to the Associated Press, a Starbucks spokeswoman said the thoughts and opinions in The Way I See It quotes are intended to hearken back to "the old coffeehouse tradition of thoughtful discussion" on topics. And while the Ohio woman in question is obviously a customer with an opinion, the originator of the quote is a customer, too (which is clearly stated on the cup, along with a disclaimer that the quote is the author's opinion and a URL where people can discuss and respond).

Personally, I hope Starbucks never feels pressured to only include quotes on their cups that offend no one. From Starbucks' branding perspective -- and including thought-provoking or inspiring quotes on its cups is branding, make no mistake -- it's not worth the ink to print something like "The sky is blue" on a cup. I've been reading Mavericks at Work by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, and coincidentally, last night's dose of the book discussed the kind of customer participation that can help give a brand heart and soul. One interesting example was Jones Soda's (NASDAQ:JSDA) habit of including customer photographs on its labels and quotes submitted by customers under its bottle caps in order to provide an extremely differentiated beverage in a soda-glutted market. Starbucks publishing some quotes from customers as well as encouraging participation in discussions seems like a similar idea from a branding perspective.   

As frustrated as I might have been when I started writing this, I realized that me getting all high and mighty about other people getting all high and mighty about a quote on a disposable coffee cup would be, well, kind of lame. Actually, the Starbucks quote fracas may be doing exactly what it set out to do: It's spurring discussion and thought, and taking the chance that some people might boycott its establishment is a small price to pay for not diluting the experience Starbucks seeks to provide. (There was that whole soul thing, after all.)  And of course, the nicest thing about discussion is that you don't have to agree with anyone's opinion.

Starbucks knows who its core customers are, and I doubt it's too concerned about controversy on this matter. For anybody who doesn't like the way somebody else sees it, I hear a whole slew of rivals like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Dunkin' Donuts, and Caribou Coffee (NASDAQ:CBOU) have gourmet coffees on the menu, and they're happy to serve -- no questions asked. 

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Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.