Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Who Else Wants Normal Size Names? The Demise of Small, Medium, and Large

Hey retailers: stop putting words in my mouth! There is a long-understood system of ordering, and it’s not cute when you create your own language – it’s frustrating.

The sizing system is one of the biggest examples. I can’t count how many times I’ve been aggravated by this. There’s Small, Medium, and Large, dammit! If you want to add an Extra Large, then that is also acceptable. But please stop creating your own size names.

I don’t even like going to Cold Stone Creamery because, for all that is holy, I am not ordering a Like It, Love It, or Gotta Have It. Does this sound right to you? “I’d like a Like It.” No. That sounds like you’re struggling to master the English language. And the worst part is when they correct me. “A Medium? Do you mean a Love It? No, I definitely did not!

Starbucks, what's up with your size names?

Starbucks, what's up with your size names?

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to use this size mentality and kindly ask everyone to stop calling me short. From now on, please call me Tall and call everyone else Grande (if you go to Starbucks, then you know what I’m talking about). I don’t buy anything from Starbucks very often, but when I do, I feel like I’m in a foreign country trying to pick up the language before everyone stops and looks at me like the tourist that I am. If you ask people that go regularly, sometimes they’ll even get tripped up trying to list the Starbucks sizes in order. When Tall is the Small, confusion naturally will follow. And now Starbucks has introduced a new size, Trenta. Trenta means 30 in Italian, so naturally at Starbucks it means 31 (ounces). When will the madness end?!

(The picture on the above left is from a brilliant Brandchannel video called: Starbucks ‘Trenta’ Gets Taiwan Animation Treatment: ZOMBIES!” I highly recommend it – watch it if you want a good laugh!)

All Starbucks jokes aside, sometimes retailers still find a way to be convoluted even when they use the traditional terms. For example, I die a little inside every time I order a Small and someone says, “Sorry, but we only carry a Medium size.” Doesn’t it make sense to name your smallest size Small? I guess not.

Of course, if you want to get technical, this retail confusion extends past just sizing and into pretty much everything you’re trying to order. I like slushies, and one place I go has a really good one. But it’s called the “Rockin’ Tropical Punch Fruit Freezer,” so whenever I order the “Red Freeze” and they don’t understand what that means, then I just get a Sprite instead.

Some of these naming errors can be great comedy fodder, but in all honesty, it makes me not want to buy the product I would actually be happy to buy otherwise. Sorry, but I just don’t feel comfortable ordering when I don’t know or like the created language to do so. Why create that barrier between you and your customers? I don’t think anyone would have NOT bought your item if you just called in a Medium. So why make it difficult?

Have you figured out Starbucks’ 31-ounce Trenta mystery? Do you also feel that cutesy naming schemes are confusing and out of control at restaurants and stores?


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  1. QLP Kid

    Supersize it….

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How the Midwest Was Won…”

  2. Peemo

    If you’re ordering anything but the biggest size coffee (whatever the hell it’s called!) you are wasting your time.

    Cafe por vida!

  3. Jill Tooley

    Jeff, this post kept me laughing from the moment it reached my inbox! For years, I thought I was some sort of freak for not understanding the size names at Starbucks. As many times as they’d explain it to me, I still didn’t get it…so my only hope was looking at the price differences on the menu (I assumed the small was the cheapest, and so on). And the worst part is, the Starbucks employees act like you’re nuts if you don’t say THEIR size names, so I feel like the Queen of the Idiots every time I go in there. This whole “Trenta” thing is ludicrous – why in the world would they name a 31-ounce drink after the number for 30? Does. Not. Compute.

    And I’m 100% with you on Coldstone Creamery, too! You hit it dead-on with your “it sounds like you’re trying to master the English language” line. WTF is up with their size names? Maybe that’s why so many of their stores have closed around here…

    I love this post! Awesome work. 🙂

    • JPorretto

      Thanks Jill! I just had to get this off my chest. Feels good, man. Feels good. =)

  4. Ness

    I don’t care about the “designer” sizes, either. I always order a traditional size confidently at said establishments and usually don’t have a problem. In fact, I’m trying to remember a time when I did have a problem doing that…

    Also, to comment on your “Rockin’ Tropical Punch Fruit Freezer” section: I have a friend who always (sarcastically) specifies the EXACT name of wacky stuff like this when ordering, and it’s hilarious. Try it sometime. 😉

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Hilarious post–and so true. Pseudonyms for sizes are nothing but annoying. I die a little bit inside every time I order from Starbucks these days. And this new “trenta” size? Wow! Talk about mistranslation! Do they honestly expect to be taken seriously?

    • JPorretto

      I think I’ve *tried* to do that, but couldn’t make it through the name =)

  5. Bret Bonnet

    I knew this was going to be a great after I read the title, and not just because the author of this post is like 4′ 2″ and is complaining about menu sizes/measurements! 🙂

    Being the coffee giant Starbucks is; I can’t image they haven’t conducted a few studies over the years seeing just how people on consumer panels react to their naming scheme. There has to be some kind of mind trick at play here that us “simpletons” just don’t understand otherwise something tells me they would have changed things already.

    I agree with you Jeff, whenever we go to Starbucks I just look at my wife and tell her to order something “yummy” for me. That’s about fullest extent I understand their menu. Whenever I venture there myself I just sort of point and somehow ALWAYS manage to walk out the store with a rice crispy treat in hand.

    I digress.

    • JPorretto

      I also wish chairs were shorter so my feet would touch the floor!!! JK. They do…. most of the time.

      • Ness

        Honestly, I think the “mind trick at play” is making everything seem so fancy and elite so the consumers can try to justify $5+ on a drink!

        • Amanda

          Excellent reply Ness! =) haha

  6. LK

    There were a few weeks where I got Starbucks coffee every morning before coming to work. I became so used to their naming of sizes that when I switched to Dunkin Donuts (Starbucks was causing a hated relationship between me and my banking account) I asked for a “Grande Iced Mocha Latte”. The lady nastily asked, “You’d like a MEDIUM?”.

    In this instance a universal size name would have been helpful, however I don’t mind the different size names Starbucks uses.

    I’m excited to see what this Trenta is all about!

  7. Laura Porretto

    I think Starbucks has a case of the U2 syndrome.

    U2 Syndrome is defined by narcissism that gives you the false sense that you are important enough to rewrite millions of people’s language. Example: Uno, dos, tres, catorce!

    Catch my drift 🙂

    And what is with the size term regular. What the heck does it mean?

    • JPorretto

      Hahaha! Nice one. U2 definitely had that one coming.

  8. Cybernetic SAM

    Hear, hear! I agree, I NEVER humor places by saying the pompous size listings. I always say small, medium, or large. I thing that should always be standard everywhere or actual measurements, b/c if you think about it originally small, medium, or large in its day introduced in restaurants etc… took away oz. measurements one of the steps in the dumbing down in this country, I guarantee you walk up to any random person in a Starbucks, McDonalds etc. and ask them how many oz.’s their drinks are, they will stare at you blankly.

    A scene from a movie called Super Troopers comes to mind: when a cop gets frustrated b/c he orders a liter of cola and the fast food employee mocks him and pretends to not know what that is. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to a food establishment and ordered a small or medium (assuming it would be enough) and upon receiving a medium by most standards is a small and a small is baby-sized. I get SO MAD! At McDonalds, on several occasions I have ordered the same size drink in a small and sometimes it’s a adult size small and other times the SAME drink order is so small a toddler would be pissed. WHAT THE HELL!?! I want to know exactly I am ordering! Ok, I am done…

    • JPorretto

      Preach on! Don’t even get me started on “Small” drinks that are so filled with ice you get practically nothing.

  9. Alex

    This post immediately made me think of this comedy skit by Aziz Ansari. Hilarious/Great post!

    • JPorretto

      I forgot about the singing at Coldstone!! Hahaha!

  10. LGroce

    I don’t go to Starbucks, but I do hate it when you go somewhere and they got wierd names for things. Why the need for the confusion? I just order a medium or whatever and make them correct me.
    Another movie reference that comes to is Role Models. Clearly, Paul Rudd gets frustrated like the rest of us.

    • JPorretto

      That’s exactly how I feel. EXACTLY. HAHAHAHA!

  11. Amanda

    This post is awesome Jeff! Very well done. =)

    I also order from Starbucks in small, medium, large fashion….the 2-3 times a year I go.

  12. Ryan

    Can I display your picture in my shop?

    I tried to make my menu easy by going for Small, Medium and Large but it seems that there are some who prefer to make their order sound complicated. Perhaps it makes them feel smart.

    Just had a customer completely disregard my carefully designed menu, complete with diagrams, and try and order a “tall” Latte. What they wanted was a large latte so they were wrong twice.

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