Crowd-sourced chaos at the Gap

The new logo fiasco is a chance for the company to reconnect with its customers.

On Oct. 4, Gap quietly introduced a new logo on its website. Almost immediately, the design was trashed on Facebook, Twitter and design blogs, but instead of standing by its new look,

Gap responded by saying it would soon announce a “crowd-sourcing project” that would look to the public for new design ideas. But that further enraged observers, who angrily denounced crowd-sourcing as glorified spec work.

And then, in what was either a clever tactical play, or a spineless submission, the Gap announced it would revert to its old logo, and admitted crowd-sourcing was the wrong idea. “All roads were leading us back to the blue box,” Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America says in a statement. “So we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo.”

Sales at Gap North America, owned by Gap Inc., have declined in the past six months, and are flat compared to last year. The company needed a boost, but wound up with mismanagement chaos.

Ted Matthews, a brand coach and founding partner at Instinct Brand Equity Coaches, says that chaos came from a misunderstanding of the company’s brand. “The No. 1 rule of branding is consistency,” he says, “and when freshening up is necessary, it should be an evolution of the brand, not a revolution.”

This certainly isn’t the first time that crowd-sourcing has incensed the public. In 2006, Chevrolet challenged fans to create the best TV ad for the new Tahoe SUV. But while most of the 30,000 entries were earnest, the campaign is perhaps best remembered for the submissions that blamed the Tahoe for global warming or tied it to the war in Iraq. Meanwhile, Kraft tried to rename Vegemite by an online vote, but their community was furious when they picked the silly name isnack2.0.

The problem with opening up the floor is, if you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 different answers. “To just say, ‘Hey, Internet! Design us a logo!’ — that’s not smart because you’re going to wind up with a pile of whimsical logos that may not be right for the strategic focus of a clothing company,” says Dave Watson, creative director of design at Taxi Canada.

But Glenn Harrington of Articulate Consultants, a communications company based out of Victoria, B.C., says that if Gap is smart, it will use the opportunity to get people to re-evaluate what the brand means to them. “The extent of the backlash is a gauge of how strongly people feel, and how important the brand is in the lives of their customers,” he says.

But the backlash also puts a lot of pressure on Gap to make its next change a good one. “All this chaos has just highlighted that Gap’s logo really is tired and in need of an update,” says Matthews. He thinks that rather than abandon the new logo, Gap should have firmly explained its reason for the change, and moved forward. That confidence would have shown customers that Gap has a clear vision for the future — a strength that would have defined the brand more than a logo ever will.