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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mind The Gap

Sometimes what appear to be the best of marketing ideas -- initiated with the best of intentions -- boomerang on a company or a product (New Coke, anyone?) The ability to salvage the situation often depends on rapid, transparent and clear communications. We are seeing this with the firestorm of social media consumer protest surrounding the decision this month by apparel retailer The Gap to remake its traditional logo for the first time in 20 years (http://bit.ly/8YmOYr). One week after its launch, The Gap killed the new logo and announced it is sticking with the old one.

The advertising and branding press are having a field day with the subject. The company’s Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/djG9dH) was inundated with comments from customers, most of them vehemently opposed to the change:

• "I have been hoping that GAP would return to its roots-classics and a few edgy pieces. Changing the logo in such a drastic way makes me think that GAP is going even further from its successful origin than before. Ick."

• "I completely expect the old logo to be back in-place soon. If not, then it will signal a PR gaffe of epic proportions."

• "The new Gap logo is perhaps one of the worst logos I've ever seen. It's awful to look at. I'm not opposed to change or rebranding, I'm just opposed to bad design. I literally could recreate the new logo in 5 minutes. I just looked at it again and now I need to go throw up."

• "Great Logo....if you are selling chemicals…"

Gap executives responded quickly, engaging their customers in dialogue on Facebook, Twitter, and on blogs at sites such as The Huffington Post. Initially Gap North America President Marka Hansen defended the new logo in a blog posting: "We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward."

But as customer response continued to trend negative, the Gap turned the discussion into a social media conversation with customers about just what the brand represents. They posted official statements on Facebook and other sites to try and solicit new ideas and turn the controversy into an opportunity: "We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we're thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we're asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we'd like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project."

Finally, they threw in the towel on that idea as well. Hansen wrote in a statement: "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."

The tiff reminds us of several cardinal rules for how marketing, advertising, corporate communications and public relations need to work together when a brand controversy erupts.

• Focus group communications are not always a large enough sample to predict a similar general public and customer behavior. Just because testing tells you one thing, doesn’t mean the public reaction will be the same. Crisis preparation especially including real-time monitoring and assessment of online and social media customer reaction to company and brand news is crucial. The worst thing that can happen to a brand is for negative comments to fester unanswered and become a tidal wave of bad publicity.

• Sometimes the best defense in the face of opposition is to embrace the opposition. Gap quickly acknowledged the spreading negative reaction, and initially tried to use it to invite participation in the re-branding. On the other hand, a contrary view is that after untold sums spent on the rebrand, this rapid capitulation to the few voices may show a lack of spine for a legitimate business effort.

• There is one more view that is being espoused. Calm down and wait this out. After the first few days of outrage by a relatively small number of concerned Gap diehards, the new logo might just stick.

What's your view? Do you like the logo? Did they not do it right? Will you not go to the Gap because of the logo change?

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