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By Thomas Baekdal - October 2010

Gap's Failure Wasn't the Logo

Gap experienced the power of social media last week. They unveiled a new logo, quite badly designed, and the reaction was an immediate social media backlash.

People complained, and a movement was started ridiculing the new logo. Twitter profiles and Facebook groups where created - Gap or Crap was the slogan. When Gap tried to solve the situation they made all the mistakes a company can possibly make, and finally had to admit defeat and go back to their old logo.

But, the problem wasn't the logo, nor the reaction on social channels. It goes much deeper than that.

Gap's logo is broken

In the wake of the Gap disaster, many people say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." What they fail to realize is that the Gap logo is badly broken. It is designed for print, and doesn't work on digital devices.

The lines are too narrow, the accents to small. The lines in the letter "A" is placed at an angle that creates huge amount of pixel distortions. The logo is boxed into a blue square, which creates design constraints and limits what you can do with it.

Gap's logo is severely broken and is in a desperate need of getting fixed.

But this story is not about the logo, it's about meeting people's expectations

In 2008, Gap was hit head-on by the financial crisis. Like so many other companies, they were creating exactly the wrong type of products. Gap's stock price dropped more than 40% and something had to be done - fast! ...and they did.

Gap started to cut costs aggressively. They refocused their Old Navy line, focused on discounts and offers, strengthened the brand, started a digital campaign about being able to shop anytime, anywhere. They opened a web shop, was one of the first to create an iPad fashion store, and they started to use social media successfully.

They were aligning them with the needs and demands of the market. They where exuding confidence and professionalism. A brand that knows what they are doing, and have the skills to match it.

Gap was doing well. They had successfully weathered the storm, had brought the company back in line, and they where even exceeding past stock performances.

Fast forward to 2010

In 2010, the world changed again, and Gap failed to anticipate it. Sales are dropping, and so is the stock price.

People are getting their confidence back, and Gap needs to reflect that in their product lines. But, Gap is still in financial crisis mode. They are still focusing on basic products that can be produced and sold at a discount.

Gap is starting to feel bland and boring. Their products lack a certain direction, they are now making average products for average people, and their customers are moving away from that.

People don't expect Gap to be Gucci, but because they handled the financial crisis so well, the expectations people have is a professional and talented company. Kind of the same way as people have high expectations of IKEA. It's cheap, but they do know what they are doing.

The logo disaster

We don't know exactly what happened inside Gap, but I would guess that management was in panic to "do something, and quick" to get the sales and stock prices back up.

Marketing, now faced with no money, no time, and a growing annoyance about their "print" logo, decided that rebranding the logo was a good idea. At the very least, it made them appear to "do something."

The result was a disaster. The logo itself looks like crap. As Scott McKain puts it:

It's embarrassing - when I first started my speaking business, I had a similar logo. It was from a generic business card company that sold 5,000 cards for ten bucks or something.

That's not the impression you want to give people who are already expecting you to be better. Gap told their core customers that they had no idea what they where doing, and that people are right in thinking that they cannot live up to their expectations.

What made it even worse, is that Gap is a fashion company? The special thing about fashion companies is that they have to inspire through style. That's what they do.

The logo was not even remotely fashionable. Of all companies, they should know. It's their business to lead with style.

From this point, Gap had already lost. There was no way to save this disaster. But that didn't stop them from continuing to shoot themselves in the foot.

When people started complaining, Gap said, "We love our version, but we'd like to see other ideas." It was like looking at the captain of a ship, walking around the bridge with the inexperience of insecurity of deckhand.

The logo wasn't the problem; it just made it worse. The problem is that they are no longer a company that is "Exuding confidence and professionalism. A brand that knows what they are doing, and have the skills to match it."

Finally, after a week of negative reactions, they decided to admit defeat and go back to the original logo. They really had no choice. Emotions where running high, and it was clear to everyone that they had made a bad decision.

People were guided by their emotions, and every action (even good ones) would have been confronted by protests. Gap needed to contain that situation.

Of course, to save face, and continue to appear to "do something" (as opposed to actually getting results, and solve the problem), their final message was "Meanwhile, the website will go back to our iconic blue box logo and, for Holiday, we'll turn our blue box red for our seasonal campaign."

Bang!! ...there goes another foot.

Social Media saved them

Most of the press is now talking about how social media influenced Gap, and wether or not Gap should have listened. But that is not really what this is about.

The problem wasn't the logo or people's reactions to it. The problem was the growing "gap" between people's expectations and what Gap delivered. The logo, and the reaction to it, was just the last drop to burst the bubble.

Facebook and Twitter certainly amplified the issue, but even more interesting, it saved Gap before it was too late.

AdAge did a survey two days ago (only 5 days after the new logo was unveiled), asking people if they knew about the new logo, and how it had influenced them.

After just 5 days, 17% knew of it, and the reaction was that 29% (of those) felt it affected their decisions.

That is incredible.

Imagine if this happened 10 years ago, before we had social media. Then Gap would have unveiled their new logo. People would be talking about it, but Gap would never know.

They would then push ahead and spend an enormous amount of money on changing their signage, clothes labels, letter heads, and all the other things that have a Gap logo on it. Just before the big important holiday sale.

Then in 6 months, management would be looking at their sales graphs and see that there is a drop in sales - and they have no idea why. Was it the products? Was it the timing? Is it the financial crisis? All while marketing thinks they have been doing a good job rebranding the logo.

They would hire a research company to do a survey or maybe a focus group. The result would probably find that people do not like the logo, but not in any quantifiable way.

It would have been a disaster.

Because of the social feedback, Gap had an instantaneous reaction, and a study that point to a single problem. After only 7 days, Gap could act on the result, before spending an enormous amount of money, and before implementing it everywhere.

Social media worked so fast that it is unlikely that the logo problem will have any long term effect. It was gone before people even started to notice it.

Gap has experienced a slight drop in brand value, and they still have a big challenge ahead of them solving the real problem (the logo is just a distraction).

Gap now needs to stop pretending, and get real. Turning their logo red for the holidays isn't the solution. They need to create confidence through their actions, show people they have learned the lesson, and is determined to prove that they are better than that.

It is great that they listened to their fans, but they should have listened before they made the logo.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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