Learn from Gap's stumble---Look before you leap!

Weidert Group Staff
Posted by Weidert Group Staff on October 12, 2010

Unless you've been living in a cave, you already knew that last week Gap announced they were rolling out a new logo to replace the iconic blue box that has been an important part of their identity since the early 1990's. And of course the update on that story hit yesterday with the mea culpa from Gap's leadership that, oops, we may have misread both the equity represented by the old logo and the weak response triggered by the new so, please forget what you just saw, we're bringing back the old one.

You gotta be kidding me!!

You just know the same designers and marketers responsible for this disaster were howling early last year as the guys at Pepsi (Tropicana parent company) suffered ridicule when they were forced by public outcry, not to mention declining sales, to pull the new Tropicana package design and bring back the old. Turns out people couldn't find the new package on the shelf because it looked too much like private label.

Of course, Pepsi also found itself the brunt of jokes when Peter Arnell, head of the Arnell Group, the brand design company that did both the Pepsi and Tropicana redesigns, released a video explanation of the thinking behind the new Pepsi logo in late 2008. It didn't help that pundits saw a distinct familiarity to the Obama campaign logo. I guess when your design fees top $1 million, even the rationalization requires intense creativity.

Back to Gap: what were they thinking? Abe Sauer of Brand Channel may have said it best with his theory on their motivation:

But ditching the classic logo, recognized by everyone, in favor of whatever that new monstrosity is, demonstrates a prototypical brand panic move. With things not going in its favor, the brand decides to change the one valuable element it has going for it.  (see complete article)

Regardless of what you think of the old versus new, when is the right time for a brand to consider a new look? The best times are pretty obvious:

  • when the brand is strong and getting stronger, in a good position to assert change
  • when there is some kind of meaningful brand event, such as a new product or a new initiative that expands the meaning of the brand.

Rebranding when the brand is weakened or in some kind of distress can be a bad idea because of the signal that sends to the marketplace. Gap's apparent wholesale change, and then almost instant public wavering about the change seemed to send just that kind of signal to a market looking for signs. And social media makes it even worse, with a news cycle expressed in minutes instead of days and pundits ready to take a shot at every corner. Social media can be like a pack of wolves, ready to devour any efforts seen as weak or vulnerable.

The biggest lessons we can all take away from Gap's experience this weak? Make sure you get it right the first time, and then create your own momentum through commitment and resolve to stay the course. Because if you don't, the wolves will eat you alive!

Topics: Inbound Marketing

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