Gap's Logo Mess: Spineless Gap Bows to Twitter Chorus

Last Updated Oct 14, 2010 2:50 PM EDT

We've just witnessed one of the world's briefest rebranding campaigns. Less than a week after the Gap unveiled a new logo, which it described as "a more contemporary, modern expression," it caved to outcry and yanked it.

The anger was mainly on Twitter - and the Gap's about-face is downright shortsighted.

Gap made a lame attempt to cast the new logo as part of a crowd-sourced redesign project, but, ultimately, it just caved and returned to its iconic blue box.

"Ok. We've heard loud and clear that you don't like the new logo," the company said on its Facebook page. "We only want what's best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowdsourcing, we're bringing back the Blue Box tonight."

What's going on here? I'm not discussing the design merits of GAP's new logo, or even the company's lack of creating a context for why it had developed a new corporate identity. I'm talking about the assumed power of a social platform to cause a major global retailer to bend over without a whimper and bow to a vocal minority.

When PepsiCo withdrew the new package designs for its Tropicana brand in 2009, there was a sales rationale behind the action: people couldn't any longer easily identify their favorite brand of orange juice. PepsiCo recognized its costly mistake and brought back the old "straw in the orange" design, to the delight of its real customers.

But Gap hadn't suffered any losses at retail. It's unlikely it would have. What we see here is a company that had no faith in its decision. The logo redesign appears to have been undertaken on a whim. Cynics have suggested it could have been an attempt to emulate upstart competitor American Apparel's logo typeface. Whatever the reasons for change, they weren't strong enough to provide a defense in the marketplace. No one from Gap even showed up to testify in the court of public opinion - meaning, on Twitter, or Facebook.

The obvious question: who were these people tweeting their outrage? Loyal Gap customers whose own identity was associated with their clothing brand of choice? What we are seeing here is a true backlash in the new world of permission-based marketing. What angry Tweeters were really screaming was: Hey Gap, you didn't ask us first if you needed to change your logo. You didn't solicit our opinion on your design. You left us entirely out of the conversation, and we don't like that.
In the age of Twitter, corporate marketing departments need to include their customers in their decisions. And that can be a rational approach to this consumer involvement, unlike the knee-jerk reaction that just happened at the GAP.

How would it work? The company needs to involve its customers earlier on. For Gap, a better first step would have been to introduce new styles that reflected their desire for a "more contemporary, modern expression." Or, heck, just update the stores, and talk about it on Twitter.

GAP needs to find a new voice with its customers that lead them in a direction the customers want to follow. If a new logo seems appropriate, it should be the result of this new more modern brand expression.

Instead, the GAP chose to let a chorus of Tweets decide its need for a more modern expression. At the end of the day, no one will really care about this blunder, and it'll just get recapped in the blunders of the year stories. But that's only because Gap is so known, and it's privileged anyone cared in the first place.

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  • Niland Mortimer

    Niland Mortimer is the chief marketing officer of Socialarc, Inc., a Bay Area social-media marketing firm. He's had a 25-year career in global marketing and advertising, with broad international experience in global brand management, web and online user experience, social media, global strategy development and implementation, interactive and direct marketing, customer relationship management, and advertising-agency management and business development. He teaches MBA-level marketing at the University of San Francisco and in fall 2010 will begin teaching open branding at Stanford University.