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Out with the old, in with the controversial

Everybody needs a little makeover now and then, but however good the intention, sometimes things just don’t work out for the better. This week, after more than 20 years of standing behind an iconic, all-caps standard, Gap Inc. launched a new Helvetica logo that has drawn the ire of many, especially those with easy access to social media. Blogs and twitter feeds lit up with caustic reactions and relatively little support.

 

The minimalist redesign, which prompted a letter from Gap President Marka Hansen defending the change, was explained away as a natural evolution for the brand. She even encouraged additional feedback and logo suggestions via Gap’s Facebook page – which, incidentally, has not been updated with the new logo – leading many to wonder if this wasn’t part of a larger marketing ploy. Perhaps Gap is stirring up controversy to create buzz for a future crowd-sourcing contest? Hansen won’t confirm or deny.

 

Marketing machinations or not, Gap seemingly failed to get the big “ah-hah.” The logo isn’t just about Gap. It’s also about all of Gap’s loyal consumers who now can’t even recognize a once-familiar face. Logos are a visual representation of a consumers’ relationship to a brand and advocates eagerly wear logo-emblazoned clothing like they would a merit badge, hoping some of the brand’s ethos will rub off on them. A drastic change is certain to evoke an outcry. Consider Tropicana. Only weeks after the launch of redesigned packaging, the brand cried mea culpa and returned to the old carton. Consumers were so turned off by the unremarkable design – many couldn’t even locate it on the shelf – OJ sales dropped 20 percent. Et tu, Gap?

 

Gap migh have done well to follow Pepsi’s example. Before launching its new smiley-face logo, Pepsi reached out to online influencers who were given a chance to review the product updates before they went live. This led to positive online conversations that helped shape the public reaction. And if unwilling to share the new logo in advance, Gap could have enlisted its PR execs to set the stage for the change. Clorox, who announced its first new logo in half a century, tied the unveiling to its greater emphasis on sustainability, providing a context for consumers to rally around. Despite what they think of Clorox’s logo, consumers can’t fault the brand for improving its business practices.

 

Whatever the reasons for the change, or eventual outcomes, it seems Gap underestimated the power of its own brand and has taken a very public beating. With store sales already going south, the new logo has not turned out to be the panacea the retail chain was hoping for, but greater attention to consumers’ needs and wants in the future might be just what it needs to right the ship.

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