Don’t Destroy a Brand; Leave Well Enough Alone

"Gap new logo"

Gap new logo

"Gap old logo"

Gap old logo

A big brouhaha developed this week about the new Gap logo.  For over 20 years the retail chain that gained fame for its jeans had a logo that was pretty simple – a blue square enclosing GAP in reverse Helvetica font.  But, oh boy, did the company get criticized for its new “hip” logo aimed at the millennial crowd.

Customers weighed in on Gap’s Facebook page with comments like, “Looks cheap! Does that mean your jeans will be cheap too?” “What people gave you such terrible advice?” and “This new ‘logo’ is terrible and amateurish.”  Ouch!

Why do companies tinker with what’s working?  Fast Company weighed in with a story, Gap on Disastrous New Logo: “We’re Open to Other Ideas” in which Bill Chandler, vice president of corporate communications for Gap, told FC, “We love the design, but we’re open to other ideas and we want to move forward with the best logo possible.” Sounds like backtracking to me.

GAP Turns to Crowdsourcing

GAP North America president, Marka Hansen, quickly dashed off a byliner in that arbiter of good taste, the Huffington Post, in which she states, “We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current…now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we’ve decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.”

Tossing aside the logo designed by a professional, the company is turning to “crowdsourcing.”  That’s when you tap into the ideas of the masses. Very often it’s tied in to a contest.  Just think, a logo designed by committee – a very, very large committee.  Individuals will be able to submit in their own designs in a contest hastily conceived by the company as damage control.

So, if the brightest minds in the design business couldn’t come up with an acceptable logo, why does the company think their customers (some of whom might actually have design experience) can do any better without the research and thought that no doubt went into the new design?

Advertisers and Agencies Get Bored

I come from an advertising/PR background.  You know the reason why companies change logos and advertising campaigns that are working just fine?  They get bored. It’s true.  I worked in agencies and agencies worked for me when I was head of marketing communications at a number of major companies.

One day a “creative,” the inside term for copywriters and art directors, says to the account director of Very Big Client.  “You know, that campaign is getting a little tired.  We’ve been kicking around some ideas for a new creative approach that we’d like to show the client.”  Before you know it, the ball is rolling down the hill and no one can stop it.

Or, the client’s advertising director is in a meeting and the company’s president says, “How long have we been running this campaign?  Aren’t people getting tired of it?”  That’s like shooting the starter’s gun at a race.  Off the ad director goes to the agency: “How come you guys aren’t coming up with any new ideas?”  Boom, everybody is scurrying around – don’t want to lose the account — and competing creative teams are assembled to come up with new designs and copy.

American Express:  “Don’t Leave Home Without It”

In one of the longest-running and most successful advertising campaigns in history, the actor Karl Malden was the pitchman for American Express for 25 years, ending each commercial with American Express:  Don’t Leave Home Without It.  This helped to build Amex’s reputation and brand as the premium card for travel and leisure.  After Malden’s departure, rotating celebrity spokespersons kept the campaign fresh for years.

There are other campaigns, too, that ran forever and no one got bored and the cash register kept ringing.  Among them were You’re In Good Hands With Allstate, Avis: We Try Harder, and Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin. I mention the last campaign because the fictional spokesman, George Whipple, was named for a real person who was the PR director for the company’s ad agency (I knew him).

My Advice for Gap

So getting back to Gap’s logo snafu.  I’d advise the company to slow down.  If you’re going to have a crowdsourcing contest, think it through carefully and understand the ramifications of opening up the corral and letting all the cattle in.  Don’t let the brand get trampled on.

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  1. The new logo reminds me of a logo that I’ve seen in the healthcare industry, but I can’t put my finger on it. I’m not surprised that it’s boredom that drives brands to fix something that isn’t broken. Humans are behind these designs after all. I imagine fear and greed play central roles as well. People feel they need to justify their existence or become irrelevant. Rolling out a new logo also means a mountain of billable hours. I think brand managers are also taught in business school that if you don’t innovate, you die. I guess teachers fail to mention that sometimes innovation can kill a good thing. Great post, as always.

  2. This is an excellent post. I agree with Amy, that people are just getting greedy. They want to be paid more and did not come up with a logo that tops the previous one.

    If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

    Perhaps Gap should have turned to their customer base in the first place. I think they should have asked what their consumers thought of their current logo to start and how they would change it, if at all. I know they did proper research before coming up with that awful logo. (Can you tell I’m an avid Gap shopper?!)

    More research directly related to their customers would have meant they could have come up with a better logo from the start. But there are no should haves or could haves here.

  3. I am the parent of three Millennial young adults (ages 20 and 22) and we just walked into Gap this past Sunday…ready to buy. So, the old logo was fine as it was.

    I think about Coke and the craziness they went through when they tried to go to the “new coke”…boy was that a bust. Maybe these companies just need a bit of a shake up…to try something new so that they see that the tried and true DOES work. If I were Gap, I would watch Apple…they keep their brand intact and they just inch it up a little bit…things get enhanced and better, but the apple logo and font look very much like they did back in the early days.

    Thanks Jeannette for another thoughtful post…keep em comin’!

  4. I so agree with you about heads of companies getting “bored” with a brand name and logo. The Gap has long been a destination and anchor store for many and I wonder if the logo change will make that much of a difference. Maybe it’s a way to generate more publicity using the internet? I wonder.

    Thanks Jeannette for your usual thought-provoking post.

  5. I actually feel badly for Gap to be in this position. It isn’t a crime to try something new. Many companies do it with some regularity, but perhaps just do it better. How unfortunate for Gap to hear a customer say that the jeans would also be of poor quality. Complaints that offer no productive solutions should be squelched immediately.

    I agree with Terez that the crowd sourcing might have been successful if done earlier. That said, why not let customers submit ideas and have a contest. That would certainly turn the negative sitauation into a positive one.

  6. Hi Jeannette,

    You are spot on with the bored factor from both sides.Terez makes the valid point about asking current customers. If you think about it the brand identity which the logo is part of comes from your positioning. You start rethinking if something is happening with your sales either they are decreasing or perhaps you are not experiencing the growth that your competitors are. Then you research amongst your customers all the factors that could be attributing to it.

    I do not agree with crowdsourcing when you are talking about something as important as your brand positioning.

    Great article.

  7. I’ve already seen much better attempts by independent designers in the last few days. And that’s what the corporation wanted. This is just another example of crowdsourcing. The “new” logo was the bait and everyone bit. Dolores guessed right, this is Gap’s way to use the power of the web to put their name in the spotlight and conjure up some viral marketing and a new logo. There have been successful brandings, like Jack in the Box, but most times you can leave well enough alone.

  8. I agree with Dolores. I think the poor logo choice could be a means to create publicity and engage consumers in conversation. It seems to be working. We’ve worked with a variety of brands to generate awareness. While some have involved a contest to create a new ad jingle or a logo for a particular corporate iniative, they all increased web traffic and engaged thier target audiences. Using the web to respond to the critcisim and launch a contest could certainly turn into a positive gain for them.

  9. I wouldn’t want to be in the position to have to defend my logo choice in the Gap’s case, and I empathize with that they are going through.

    HOWEVER, it is beyond subjectivity! 10% of the people like it?

  10. Excellent article Jeannette!

    Personally I think GAP should keep their logo. It’s working why change it?

    Avis really has used “we try harder” for a long time. Remember daddy saying in Lisbon a long time ago “but you don’t try at all”.

    As for American Express “don’t leave home without it” really has worked wonders for them. Not least since it’s more expensive to use American Express than Visa, Master Card and so forth.

  11. Great points, Jeannette, and I love your suggestion that some re-brand because they are “bored.” I worked for a company a while back in its growing stages and we literally re-branded SIX times! I was only there for two years – now that is bit excessive don’t you think?