The GAP Analysis

What a week for the Gap branding!

The summary: A new logo was introduced on the Gap website on 10/6.  A firestorm swept through the design community blogs like Brand New and spread into the general media.  By Monday evening, 10/11, the new logo had been withdrawn and Gap executives were acknowledging their mis-reading of customer sentiment.

This being several days later, it is time for a sober assessment of the situation, what went wrong and what went right.

First, kudos to the executives at Gap for having an early warning system with a very sensitive radar.  They caught wind of the online comments within hours.

Second, senior Gap executives responded in the appropriate forums and quickly and in the name of senior executives. Marka Hansen was front and center with her response on the Huffington Post.  She also responded quickly to journalists blogging online about the situation.

Third, Gap did not jump out with a legalistic defense.  It was not a series of dense corporate-speak memo.  They stayed in the voice of the brand, not in the voice of an attorney.  They did not lash out at the critics.

Fourth, Gap was willing to take actions in the face of the outcry.  We can debate if it was the right action but they did respond and take concrete steps to address the situation in near record time.

Not to say that Gap’s handling of the situation was flawless.  The initial Facebook response fanned the flames among the design community.  By calling for everyone to submit their own ideas for the Gap logo – aka crowd sourcing – it hit an exposed nerve in the design world.  Crowd sourcing has been blamed for many of the troubles in the design industry.

Could better or different market research have prevented this problem?  I believe so.  Tropicana’s brand misfire showed us the flaws in typical focus groups and market research.  The Tropicana uproar came from the real world, from consumers who couldn’t find their beloved product anymore.  In my house the first reaction to the new packaging was, “why don’t we get Tropicana anymore?”

It would mean a whole new approach to market research to anticipate the Gap uproar — because the Gap uproar happened among a community that is not representative of core Gap consumers.  After all, who would expect Gap to test their logo among the design community?   And the design community is notorious for having strong opinions that don’t really influence anyone. Blogs have amplified the opinions of designers but haven’t really made them any more influential in almost all situations — except for this.

So, does this now mean open season on all new rebranding programs?  Or was it an outlier, a black swan?

I believe this is part of the new normal.  Every CMO from this point forward will be thinking of Gap and Tropicana as they consider their rebranding plans.

The risks of rebranding have just gotten higher.  The old way of marketing is leading to new troubles.

Branding needs to more flexible than ever before.

I believe that the Gap situation is one more reason why marketing needs to be reinvented for the reality of today’s digital world.  The traditional methods of branding, the traditional tools of market research — they have lost their effectiveness and need to be replaced.

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