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Logo You Don't
By Jonathan Salem Baskin

The Gap Logo Fiasco Says Everything About The Brand

Gap announced a new logo on October 4, and a week later retracted it with a promise to keep the old one. The chorus of vociferous customer disdain for the new design was topped only by the branding experts who vilified it. So the market spoke, aided in large part by social media, and Gap responded. And that's that.

No, wait...what happened? What does it mean for Gap?

Or, put more simply, who cares?

Most media reported that the Gap's "customers" had done the complaining. So did Gap's president of North America, who called it a "...passionate outpouring from customers..." Only this isn't true. There's no way of knowing.

The group of consumers who shop Gap has been shrinking steadily for years. Repeat (and very glossy and expensive) ad campaigns have failed to keep them, let alone attract new shoppers, so the company has instead tried to find profits by cutting costs...so stores have gotten more cluttered, less deep on sizes, and far leaner on qualified or motivated staff. Sales have been down every month for the past half-year, and the stock price has fallen almost 10% since 2009.

So complaints from many Gap customers would be a good thing, if not somewhat surprising, since who knew they still existed? A passionate outpouring would be particularly notable since an Ad Age poll found that 80% of consumers hadn't even heard that the logo had changed.

Gap can claim 742,000-plus "friends" on its Facebook page, but who knows how many weighed in on the logo or, more importantly, if any of them bought something at the store in recent memory. Snarky Twitter hashtags proliferated for an extended nanosecond, and people posted comments numbering in the hundreds on news web sites. "Passion" in this instance likely amounted to on-line clicks and quippy comments from a small universe of complete strangers. I'd hate to imagine what constitutes "brief passing interest" these days.

The branding and design community commentary was a bit easier to track, especially since they are in the business of speaking out on logos so they can get work designing more of them. What was notable wasn't that some of them didn't like it; all of them could have compared it to a dirty smudge for all it matters, since the logo biz is about as important to businesses as the color of the paper cups in employee lunchrooms. A tweet dissing the new design was damning like a complaint that the revolving door at corporate HQ doesn't spin fast enough.

I think the only people who really cared about the new logo were the folks at Gap and, if I'm right, it says some scary things about what’s going on inside the company.

Until last week, the logo is just about the only thing that hadn't changed at Gap. For those of us who think anything at all about the brand, our memories harken back to a time of dancing khaki commercials and solid clothing basics for men and women that were stylish and durable. Those days are long gone, and with them any real differentiation for the chain, by any measure...design, manufacturing, assortment, display, staffing, pricing, services...so much that the old logo really doesn't fit the new brand.

The stores are mislabeled.

But company management wasn't trying to fix this. "We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward," hyped the company's president. Yeah, right. Of the zillions of things you need to be doing to repair your business, the logo jumped to the top of the list. If I were a stockholder I'd sell my shares.

The president continued in her statement about the retreat: "We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community." Er, no, you failed to recognize that the people who complained about your logo don't matter to you, or that you missed the chance to get them into your stores. The real insight here isn't that a small fishbowl of strangers can click and burp their opinions on anything and everything; it's that real conversation and engagement need to happen before and after the online part, not just during it.

Imagine if Gap chose to truly engage its customers in a real conversation about its business?

  • Crowdsource input on the assortment, allowing people to commit to items (and prices) a la the Groupon model. Get people to tell the brand what they can't find at other stores instead of trying to sell versions of the same things to them.
     
  • Encourage customers to vote on the quality of staff help and in-store experiences overall, and tie that feedback to substantive chunks of bonus pay and store upkeep budgets.
     
  • Focus on its credit card community as the community of consumers who matter most, and give them real financial incentives to participate in dialogue about the brand (and, conversely, discount the POVs of folks who are too busy to actually shop at the stores or on-line site).

Who cares about the logo? Change it, leave it alone, whatever. The goal should be profitable sales and happy customers. Deliver that, and the logo will seem absolutely and utterly perfect.

Added: 18th October 2010

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