November 22, 2010

The Gap new logo mess – what went wrong?

"Classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool"?

Rewind: on October 4, 2010, The GAP announced it would transition its iconic logo from “classic, American design to modern, sexy, cool”. What followed was a storm of negative consumer feedback – about 90% rejected the new version.
(For links relating to the full story, see at the bottom of this mail).
The new logo however looked like it was designed in MS Paint or Word Perfect. It was just so… plain ugly. After just one week, GAP pulled the story and buried the project silently.

What went wrong at ‘The Gap’? I don’t think they will ever tell us. Let us however think for a moment. You have serious business people running a company in San Francisco. They went to Business school. They work for a public company that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They have pressure from their investors – they have to publish quarterly results. And that is as much long-term focus as they have. Add an economic climate to the mix that has most retailers mark down their goods by 20, 30, 40 or even 50% (yes, it’s nasty out there right now), and you have people panicking.

What can we do? Well, you can’t force people to buy. You can change advertising agencies. Or you can try yet another advertising campaign to seduce the people. Gap’s advertising agency of record, Laird & Partners in New York, is very good at that. If the campaign however doesn’t get people to spend their dollars, what else can you do?

Enter the Gap’s marketing department. Strategy meeting. Panic there as well. Measure of last resort: let’s change the logo! Everyone nods. Ad agency gets a call. Creative presentation with a strategic set-up outlining the rationale. Something about a new customer type. They call them ‘millennials’. And the new logo is for them. Everyone nods. Let’s do it.

The problem with all this: between the Gap’s marketing meeting, and Laird designing a new logo, no one did the thinking. No brand strategist sat down and analyzed the brand’s equity, assessed the implications, the possible outcome, did some consumer testing. What a mess this was. I’m pretty sure someone got the boot for that.

A lesson for every marketing manager: don’t confuse an advertising agency with a branding/identity shop. Laird & Partner is a formidable agency with a proven track record, and an impressive client roster. Just check out their website. They are, however, a creative boutique. They produce aesthetic visuals. Still, and in motion. Agencies like that are not strategically driven. Creative people, often-flamboyant personalities, and sometimes even eccentric ones run them. Strategy there is the ugly step child, serving the purpose of post-rationalizing the creative in some kind of way. Most often it exists primarily to sell an idea or a concept to the client vs. doing what's right for the brand and the client's business.

Yet in the case of the GAP logo, even that doesn’t serve as an explanation, since the outcome is just so very bad. Did an intern work on this? I don’t know. What were clearly missing in this ‘value chain’ of creative components were a brand strategy/brand identity firm, and preliminary consumer testing. The results would have shown that this was a bad call from the beginning, and the story would have never seen the light of day in the first place.

Lesson for The GAP: You’ve spent years building an iconic brand. You’ve pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into this. Don’t throw your most valuable asset out of the window just like that. That’s just plain dumb. Seriously. Look at the logo evolution of Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s pretty clear who’s number one, and who’s the runner up.

One thought on the "modern, sexy, and cool" attempt of the new logo. Well, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t mean anything. It shows how poorly thought through this project was. The meaning assigned to these attributes solely depends on your age and where you’ve set your cultural anchor... something that is modern, sexy and cool is not so much modern, sexy and cool six months from now. What do you do then? Change the logo? Again? Timeless, classic, and cool would be a better attempt. But wait – isn’t that what the iconic GAP logo is all about?

I think I just heard Mickey Drexler laughing out loud in his offices at J. Crew...

Related links:
Oct 12, 2010: New Gap Logo Dead at One Week (Vanity Fair)
Oct 7, 2010: Gap Speaks Out: Yes, the Logo Is Real (AdAge)

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