Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Gap and its logo 360 turnaround

This month saw one of the more embarrassing about turns in the last year and I am not talking about RooneyGate. No this comes from that well know purveyor of clothing Gap. Gap actually started in 1969 in San Francisco and since then has grown to its current position of owning 5 leading store brands including Banana Republic and Old Navy and now turns over $14bn a year.

Gap, as you may or may not know, is also quite famous for using its own name and logo splashed over its clothing. Of course many clothing brands do that but Gap has always been known to do it in a very American way and sometime in your life you have probably seen someone wearing a sweatshirt with GAP in large letters on the front.

Its name and indeed its logo, with Gap in white text sitting in a blue box, is one of the more recognisable logos in the world. So much so that I was surprised to see that it was considering changing it. I was even more amused during the following 7 days of extreme embarrassment for the Gap board.

On October 6th Gap announced it was changing its logo, removing the blue box and changing the font. Within hours the new logo was universally panned with some descriptions not right for this family newspaper. The kinder ones related it to something created in 5mins in Powerpoint or that it was more geared towards a new piece of accounting software, ouch!

Social media sites were flooded with comments, virtually all negative. Within 3 days Gap’s senior management announced that the new logo was being retracted and that they had decided to start a “crowdsurfing project” to come up with better ideas. Now I had never heard of that one either and presumed that they came up with it while in a more lenient coffee house considering the current debate in California to legalise marijuana.

Most commentators renamed its “crowdsufing project” to what it actually was, an embarrassing u-turn. However that’s not where it ended, on October 12th just 6 days after it started and 3 after the announcement of its first change of policy, the president of Gap North America announced that it was withdrawing its “crowdsurfing” strategy and returning to its original logo.

This spectacular 360 degree turn of policy quite rightly attracted large amounts of media attention. Interestingly many commentators concluded that this was all an extremely clever piece of press manipulation designed to create large brand awareness. They simply could not believe that a company as large as Gap could make such an almighty hash of such a big thing. I could almost buy that argument if they had just stopped at the “crowdsourcing” point and ended up shortlisting some of the thousands of received logo suggestions for a worldwide integrated campaign using a social media driven vote on a new logo. But they didn’t, they turned face again and went back to the old saying they had “learned a lot in this process”.

In my opinion this was a simple case of a very public mistake that they took too long to correct. Logos are an emotive subject and often overplayed. Take Tesco, its logo has been subtly tweaked over time, but it’s pretty much the same as it has been since I had hair and it hasn’t stopped it taking over the world. Changing your logo will not turn your business round. Understanding your customer needs and delivering products solutions to them will. I hope in Gap’s case the management has learnt its lesson.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant – follow him on Twitter @timyoungman

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