Gap’s Marketing Lesson: Don’t Mess with A Beloved Logo

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Man walking between two large rocks, Rear view, elevated viewEver since the debacle of Gap  unveiling its new logo last week, I’ve been a rather outspoken critic of not only the design, but Gap’s somewhat bizarre and poorly articulated attempts to make it appear that the rebranding effort was all part of one big crowdsourcing exercise or a PR stunt. (Why is it every time a brand does something odd in the digital space, we have to label it a “PR stunt?”)

It wasn’t.

News this week that Gap was abandoning its new logo—after just seven days on the market, and before the new logo had even hit stores or merchandise (the new logo was rolled out via a “soft launch” on Gap.com—left me wondering one thing: Does Gap even realize how badly it’s hurting it’s brand right now?

It’s one thing to roll out a new logo after months, if not years, of market research on the implications a rebranding effort will have on your customers, brand affinity, brand recognition, etc. But to roll out a new logo, after having one of the world’s most recognizable brand marks, then receive a torrent of negative feedback, only to claim the new logo is part of a crowdsourcing experiment, and then, finally, revert back to your old logo after only seven days, is not only bizarre but indicative of a brand losing its edge and sense of where it fits in the market.

Still with me?

In a recent Ragan.com article discussing the new Gap logo, I offered some thoughts on why the logo redesign may be detrimental to the once-vaunted Gap brand:

“A global company with as rich a history and as strong a brand affinity as Gap doesn’t spend millions [of dollars] on redesigning its logo and rebranding efforts if it intended all along to crowd-source ideas and reaction to the logo once it’s launched. That’s a coverup for a rebranding effort that has clearly gone awry.”

And I still don’t buy Gap’s assertions that this was all part of some big crowdsourcing experiment that has now clearly gone awry. Had Gap been engaging in some type of crowd-sourcing activities all along—say, with the development of a new line of jeans or in picking the next Gap model—then absolutely, this new effort would make sense, and I’m sure would be welcomed. But when it comes to your company’s brand — often the most recognizable and profitable physical attribute of a company — engaging in any type of digital experimentation can have expensive consequences.

Ultimately, brands live and die by two things: brand recognition and brand loyalty. And when you start messing with one of those two, you had better be sure you’re 100 percent certain it’s for the right reasons and you have the research and backing of your customers and key stakeholders to back it up.

Gap clearly lacked all of that, and it’s now learned a harsh lesson on rebranding in the digital age.

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  • JasMollica

    Keith,

    I agree that Gap shouldn’t have tinkered with their logo. But, at the end of the day, it’s not going to matter. The logo never hit the shelves, stores never changed their fronts, and clothing never switched.
    Was it silly for the company to play it off as a PR stunt? Yes. And whomever claimed it was a stunt should be sacked. It’s bad form and shows you don’t respect your brand. But, I’d like to argue that if you asked 10 shoppers at Gap about the logo change, maybe one would know.
    I think Gap will be just fine.

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com/ Keith Trivitt

      Good points all around. The one thing that struck me with your comment was your point of how Gap trying to claim this was all a big PR stunt is actually disrespectful to your brand. I think it goes a step further than that and shows two things: 1) that Gap doesn’t truly understand the intricacies of marketing and branding in the digital age; and 2) It thinks in the world of social media, if something goes wrong, you can just wipe it away by trying to claim it was all some big “experiment” or an exercise in “crowdsourcing.” But as I said in the post, when you have a brand mark that is literally worth millions in both revenue and brand affinity, experimenting, especially in an era where people (like me) will jump down a company’s throats at a moment’s notice on Twitter, blogs, etc. isn’t exactly the right way to go about this.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  • Jasonpkeith

    Good topic, but I think we need to be careful about calling this a “rebranding” regardless of whether or not it was intentional. At the end of the day, all this was was a logo change, which I guess can technically be called a “rebranding,” but it’s not like the Gap was going to dramatically alter the style of their clothes, or go after a new audience. I don’t think this was part of some dramatic overhaul, it was just a logo tweak that went bad, so they yanked it. All done badly by the way, but I agree with Jason, it won’t have any long lasting effect because it’s really nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. People might hate the logo, but they won’t stop buying the clothes as a result. Now if Nike were to alter the “swoosh” we’re talking a different story here.

    • http://prbreakfastclub.com/ Keith Trivitt

      I’d argue, though, that Gap’s logo is so intrinsically tied to its overall brand value (much like Nike’s swoosh) that any change to its logo is actually a full rebranding of the company and its overall brand. Gap’s logo, much like Nike’s and Coca-Cola’s, is one of the most recognizable brand marks in the world. That’s why, to me, it’s so surprising that Gap would be somewhat cavalier (sloppy?) with this effort, its subsequent explanations and the quick yanking of the new logo. I don’t think Gap would have done that unless it had grander intentions for this effort.

  • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

    I never got the sense that it WAS a crowdsourcing exercise, only that it BECAME one after we all mocked it endlessly. To be honest, it is my biggest frustration with the whole situation. They quickly became aware that they had made a misstep and just started making fast decisions rather than smart ones…

    I cannot help but wonder if they knew it was a bad idea in the first place as who the heck would do a soft launch on the first logo update in 20 years…

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