Gap logo a no-go? Flurry of opinions on rebranding bid

No one will forget the social media firestorm that erupted when Gap changed its logo. Designers and communicators hated the new look, and they said so on every corner of the Web. Here’s our take on this PR disaster.

UPDATE: Gap will retain its old logo, the company announced on its Facebook page Monday.

In a statement, Hansen says, “All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on any further.”

The old logo has indeed returned to the website.

“At Gap brand, our customers have always come first,” Hansen says. “We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.”

She went on to say that Gap will handle things differently if they decide to change their logo in the future.

It’s undeniable. A lot of people (88 percent) who know branding don’t like Gap’s new logo, which the company quietly unveiled Monday on its website.

Commentators are not shy in speaking their minds, as the comments on this Advertising Age piece about the logo can attest.

What’s less clear is whether the 41-year-old chain, which operates more than 3,000 stores worldwide and employs more than 134,000 people, simply made a mistake or actually intended to spark all the attention it’s getting.

“We know this logo created a lot of buzz, and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding!” the company announced Wednesday on its Facebook page, which still bears the previous Gap logo. “So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”

That post sparked 800 comments and counting as of Friday, ranging from praise for its marketing savvy to sadness over the logo change to theories that Gap is simply trying to cover up a mistake.

What were they thinking?

Just like those Facebook commenters, PR experts and designers are wondering just what Gap had in mind.

“A global company with as rich a history and as strong a brand affinity as Gap doesn’t spend millions 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,” says Keith Trivitt, associate director of public relations at the Public Relations Society of America. “That’s a coverup for a rebranding effort that has clearly gone awry.”

Joe Ciarallo, director of communications at Buddy Media, says he was immediately reminded of Tropicana’s similar troubles with a logo change, which parent PepsiCo reversed not long after the new design was introduced.

“If Gap plays this right, it could actually be an opportunity for the brand,” he says. “Opening up a debate or having users vote on the new logo, before they decide to roll something out globally, is a lot less expensive than if they rolled it out globally and then decided to change it back. Then, they could talk about how they listened to their customers and responded.”

But, he adds, “Some may rightfully ask why they didn’t do that in the first place.”

Doland Ruiz, a freelance communication designer based in Los Angeles, says the whole thing, even a set of Twitter accounts (@GapLogo, @OldGapLogo) poking fun at the change, seem to be one big publicity stunt.

“It’s too good,” he says. “Too funny, and the comments are well written and advertising-related.”

Evaluating the logo

As for the logo itself, Ruiz says he thinks it’ll revert back to something closer to the well-known blue square, with a condensed version of the Helvetica font used in the new logo.

Jaime O. Diaz Cabán, a visual communications consultant in Puerto Rico, says the new logo looks “like an accident” with the blue square shuffled up into a corner.

“I would’ve just changed the typography and placed it within the iconic blue square, if anything,” he says. “I remember a couple of years back that UPS brought some similar controversy, but it reflected the fact that their company has evolved and it needed a branding boost.”

Lisa Weldon, a graphic designer and art director in Atlanta, says the new logo looks “committeed to death.”

“I’m sure they employed competent designers who jumped all over the chance to rebrand a company who seems to value design,” she says. “But as often happens with creative, clients overanalyze the work, try to please too many layers and, in the process, lose great work altogether.”

Gap probably could have done better going back in the design process and picking an earlier step, Weldon says.

What now?

Gap’s public relations department didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, but company representatives such as Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, were out in full force. In her Huffington Post column about the logo, she characterized the crowd-sourcing idea as a reaction to “the passionate outpouring from customers.”

Weldon says she doesn’t think Gap would have ever put the logo online if the company had anticipated the response it’s gotten. Still, she says, it’s taking the right course by making a “social media event” out of the logo change.

Trivitt says he doesn’t know whether the crowd-sourcing idea will work, as this is the company’s first attempt at it.

“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,” he says. “But in this case, it comes off as bizarre and out of left field.”

Instead, Trivitt says, Gap should take the fight to its naysayers.

“I would encourage members of Gap’s communications and marketing teams to actively engage with the @GapLogo and @OldGapLogo Twitter accounts,” he says. “Why not? If they are going to treat their old, heavily influential logo that had tremendous brand affinity with what basically amounts to a kick to the door, why not actively engage with rogue Twitter accounts that are openly mocking Gap’s failed efforts at rebranding its image?”

Shel Holtz, of Holtz Communication + Technology, says Gap shouldn’t do anything too drastic.

“In most cases, once the brouhaha created by these people has died down, the change becomes accepted and sometimes even liked,” he says. “I can’t remember an introduction of a new logo that was greeted with a ‘this is awesome’ response, yet most of those new logos are taken for granted today. Think about Pepsi, EDP, Lucent, even Unisys.”

It’s not that companies shouldn’t react, Holtz says. They just need to be measured in their responses.

“They need to dig into the data and figure out who’s reacting badly,” he says. “If it’s not your core audience, you might want to remember all the time and money spent with a professional design firm, with its impressive track record, to develop the logo.”

However, he adds, “I do have to wonder: Helvetica? Really?”

Topics: PR

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