Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Whose 'Gap' Is It Anyway?

Last week, international clothing retailer, Gap, unveiled a new logo that unleashed a firestorm of harsh criticism from customers and fans over the Internet. According to Gap, since they’ve had the same logo for more than 20 years, the company decided to redesign it to make it look more contemporary.

But far from contemporary, the logo has been perceived as dull and unimaginative, drawing hundreds of negative comments on Gap’s Facebook page and spawning several Twitter accounts (@GapLogo, @CrapLogo) that make fun of the company and its new logo. A few customers even swore on the company’s Facebook page that if this logo was brought into the store, they would no longer shop at Gap. A week later, people are still talking about the logo fiasco and wondering what the heck Gap was thinking (some are also questioning if this was a gimmick to generate buzz for the brand.)

The Gap debacle reminds me of the font furor that ensued last year when home furnishings company, IKEA, changed the font in its logo from Futura to Verdana. Verdana became a trending topic on Twitter as customers from all over the world expressed their disgust with the new font, calling it ‘just plain ugly.’ Just like Gap, IKEA also said it was ‘surprised’ by the response. They simply never thought it would be a big deal.

Both these incidents prove yet again what a few brand theorists have always asserted: A brand is defined by its customers, not the company that creates it. One of my favorite books on social media, Groundswell (Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff) quotes Ricardo Guimaraes, founder of Thymus Branding in Brazil. According to Guimaraes, “the value of a brand belongs to the market, and not to the company. The company in this sense is a tool to create value for the brand…Brands live outside the company, not in the company.”

The idea that brands are defined by customers is not new and neither does it have anything to do with social media. (Think about 'New Coke' in 1985 and the uproar it created.) But in the age of social media, where it has become easier for customers to instantly voice their opinions, connect with each other and exchange their reviews and comments about you, companies need to be even more mindful of the role customers play in shaping brands and how social media has empowered them more than ever before.

Does this mean every company or organization should be crowd sourcing every new initiative/idea/logo redesign? Not necessarily. But the least they should do is to keep customers in the loop, explain their decisions or plans, and ask for suggestions. Just listening to customers can make them feel more valued and better prepared to accept an evolution of a brand they love and are accustomed to.

Post Script: After first announcing that they would be crowd sourcing ideas from customers for logos on their Facebook page (seeing how much customers and fans hated the new logo,) Gap has now announced it will keep its classic blue box logo for now. Here’s a statement from Gap Brand North America’s President, Marka Hansen, taken from a press release:

“At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.

“We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing. “There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way.”

My own Gap-like logo, created from http://craplogo.me/.
Go ahead, crap your own logo now!

3 comments:

  1. exactly my thoughts on the issue. Glad you wrote about it while I just think :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent point, Farida..Newspapers also have fallen into this trap..changing their look/style/contentwith unintended consequences

    ReplyDelete
  3. Newspapers are desperate. Let them be. ;)

    ReplyDelete

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