One of last year’s most interesting business books was Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age”. The rise of the affluent society has left people with lots of time and talent to spare, Mr Shirky argues. For decades they squandered this cognitive surplus watching television. Today, thanks to the internet, they can also channel it into more productive pursuits.
For a surprising number of people these productive pursuits involve worrying about companies’ logos. Howard Schultz, the boss of Starbucks, recently announced that his company would mark its 40th anniversary this March by changing its logo a bit. The words “Starbucks” and “coffee” will disappear. And the mermaid, or siren, will be freed from her circle.
Starbucks wants to join the small club of companies that are so recognisable they can rely on nothing but a symbol: Nike and its swoosh; McDonald’s and its golden arches; Playboy and its bunny; Apple and its apple. The danger is that it will join the much larger class of companies that have tried to change their logos only to be forced to backtrack by an electronic lynch mob.