Manufactured Intimacy and The Logo Wisdom of Crowds

Suddenly, a change in a corporate logo becomes headline news.  Last week,Starbucks' decision to drop the words "coffee" from its brand identity - announced with great caffeinated fanfare by Howard Schultz  - generated a serious foam of journalistic attention.  

Minimalism evokes confidence.  Starbucks doesn’t need anything more than the “siren” – as Howard Schultz, the company’s founder, describes the iconic visage.  (I’m sure his mythological reference to irresistible lures is not accidental.)  And apparently, Target doesn’t need anything more than it’s bulls-eye; logo-watchers have noted that the company has dropped its name, without any media hoopla.

Last year, by contrast, there were two disastrously ill-fated logo reinventions, one for Tropicana and one for the Gap.

In both cases, howls of graphic distress were heard from devoted fans of the brand.  And the media - delighted by the spectacle of big companies making fools of themselves by alienating their best customers through dumb changes - joined the ridicule.  Eventually, the companies capitulated and returned to their old identities, their public humiliation offset, at least, by the public display of brand affection demonstrated by outraged logo fundamentalists.

 More telling than these individual brand decisions, though, was the depth of consumer interest in, and response to, the manner in which a company chooses to present itself to consumers, its aesthetic strategy. After all, corporate graphics are an essential form of corporate manipulation.  Type faces and logo designs are influential branding levers, artifacts of non-verbal communication that reach deep into our brains to activate swarms of neurons and trigger feelings of confidence, joy, modernity, or hundreds of other emotions,

Given, then, that companies change logos for calculated reasons of, well, mind control - or at least mind-shaping - you might think that both consumers and the media would resent the sheer obviousness of this.   That we'd get all huffy about sophisticated attempts to create brand preference through bio-chemical skullduggery.  That corporations would be called out for such brazen behavior.   

 Instead, while we may criticize a particular logo transmogrification on stylistic grounds, we're blissfully unaggrieved by the intentions behind it. That's because we've all become media insiders and cultural critics.  We're deep in the game.  We're visual sophisticates, if not logo groupies.  And as astute observers of the marketing minuet we don't mind being spun around as the slippery corporate hand reaches for our wallet.

 In fact, we enjoy as role as  professionalized consumers, both judging the appeal of a logo - or entity that subvents it - and simultaneously being persuaded by it.  When logos become expressions of creativity that are as worthy of comment and critique as a movie or museum show - and many museum shows have become nothing more than collections of corporate statements, viz the Guggenheim exhibit on the art of the motorcycle that was accused of being a ramped-up BMW commercial - it signals another blurring of art and commerce. 

 Brands are using social media, in savvy and meretricious ways, to create an illusion of interest in what consumers think.  But of course, when Doritos asks us to propose their next Superbowl commercial,  or Vitamin Water asks us to name a new flavor, those are nothing more than transparent gestures of inclusion that are motivated by the new conventional marketing wisdom that consumers want to have a  "conversation" with the brands in their lives.  

While some consumers may be motivated to engage with brands through the manufactured intimacy of social media - whether from psychic loneliness, actually affection for a brand, or the satisfaction of being acknowledged - the companies themselves are using social media platforms out of pure capitalism.  

There's nothing wrong with that. Turning a logo change - which used to be a private affair - into a public unveiling - is an Oprah-like confessional moment.

We feel flattered at the inclusion, and we're anxious to offer our weighty opinion, even if deep down we know that we are being totally, unmistakably used. 

 

 

 

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