Tinkering with a beloved logo can be dangerous, a lesson Gap (GPS) learned this week when it introduced a new look that's garnering nearly universal criticism. But the clothing retailer's response -- a social-media experiment to draw better ideas from the public and designers -- is only adding to the backlash against the company.
Gap's introduced its new logo on its Website earlier this week, replacing the old logo, a familiar dark-blue square with "Gap" spelled out in white letters that the company had used for more than 20 years. The new logo incorporates black letters with on a white background, with a small blue square jutting out from the "p" in Gap. Designed by Trey Laird of Laird and Partners, the new icon is meant to be "a more contemporary, modern expression," Gap spokesman Bill Chandler told Fast Company's Co.Design blog.
The response to the new logo has been remarkably disdainful, with a parody Twitter account for the new design. (Bio: "I have feelings, too. Jerks.") Consumers and designers posted criticisms of the new logo on Gap's Facebook page, calling it a "catastrophe" and looking "like a child made it." The backlash recalls some other infamous logo redesign blunders, such as Tropicana's 2009 redo of its orange juice cartons. The new look so turned off consumers that sales of its Pure Premium line plunged 20%, prompting the company to scrap the packaging.
Gap's new logo "looks like somebody took Microsoft's PowerPoint and kind of did it in five minutes flat," says David Wolf, the owner of Wolf Snap Designs, a Corona, Calif.-based company that designs Web sites and logos. He says when he first read about the new design, he thought it was a joke. "If I saw a first-year design student do this, I would send them back to the drawing board," he notes.
That's bad enough, but Gap's response to the criticism has only compounded the marketing faux pas. According to a post on The Huffington Post by Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, Gap is asking "people to share their designs with us as well. We welcome the participation we've seen so far." The problem? It's unclear whether Gap is going to pay for the design work it's asking designers or consumers to send in. "We'll explain specifics on how everyone can share designs in a few days," Hansen wrote. Gap didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Crowd-Sourcing Con: Many Work, One Gets Paid
Crowd-sourcing, or asking the public to work at a task for no guarantee of compensation, is a trend that's gaining traction among companies, but it has been criticized for exploiting workers and lessening the value of certain occupations. The technique has been used by Australian wine maker Yellow Tail to name a new Chardonnay and by NetFlix (NFLX), which offered $1 million for ideas for improving its movie-recommendation software. While the people behind the winning ideas often receive compensation of some sort, the other participants in a crowd-sourcing effort usually get nothing.
Thus, the backlash to the Gap's backlash response. "Coming from a company like the Gap, which is a creative company, to think they should have free designs from which they can pick and choose is slightly laughable," says Wolf. He points out that many top design professionals scorn crowd-sourcing, and suggests that Gap may be sacrificing quality in favor of getting the work done for free. "It makes sense from Gap's perspective -- maybe -- but it doesn't make sense from a professional point of view," he notes.
Actually, it may not make much sense for Gap, either. After all, it was ranked among Interbrand's top 100 global brands for 2010, with the report pegging the value of Gap's image at nearly $4 billion. It's unclear why Gap would place its brand at risk by using social-media technique that's already controversial. But with the holiday shopping season approaching and second-quarter same-store sales down 4%, the retailer may want to get its image in order sooner rather than later.
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