Filling in the Gap of a Rebranding Disaster

How Retailer Went From Safe Territory to Danger Zone in Quest for Change

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NEW YORK ( -- Now you see it, now you don't. The new Gap logo was around for just one week, but now the question is: What was management thinking? How could this happen?

Blame pressure to perform after years of painfully sluggish sales and a desire to signal a new, fresher Gap, which resulted in a remarkably hasty rollout.

Executives close to the company told Ad Age that Gap President Marka Hansen championed the new logo and the idea of a "soft launch" against the wishes of the marketing team. Bill Chandler, a spokesman for Gap, denies that was the case, saying, "To say that any one person made the decision would be inaccurate. It was a group decision."

Others blame Laird & Partners, which designed the new logo as part of their assignment to handle this year's holiday campaign, but in fact Gap had a shootout among three shops for the assignment and all proposed new logos, said Mr. Chandler.

"Laird had a number of [logo] options that were presented and discussed. The senior team reacted positively to the idea of evolving the logo," Mr. Chandler said.

"Ultimately, it's something that Marka talked about with Glenn Murphy, our CEO," he added. "In the end, Marka and Glenn have both taken accountability and have said this was an instance of one change too many."

Gap has changed its product mix, merchandising and store design in hopes of boosting sales and attracting customers. Annual sales at stores open at least a year haven't been positive since 2004. And same-store sales have been negative for the last six months, falling 1% in September.

Mr. Murphy has also put pressure on the company's brands, including Gap, to improve top-line sales, said Mr. Chandler. Gap Inc.'s other retail brands are Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta.

"There's a well-intentioned desire to signal change," Mr. Chandler said. "But we recognize that changing the logo in this way was one change too many and executed too fast."

Asked why Gap handled the rollout the way it did, Louise Callagy, a Gap spokeswoman, told Ad Age on Oct. 7 that rolling it out on Facebook was "in line" with millennials, the target market.

Gap executives, however, appeared to have doubts about their new logo just two days after its online debut. After an initial spate of negative comments, on Oct. 6 a message appeared on Gap's Facebook page acknowledging the debate and asking for consumer input on the designs: "Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project," it read.

But the crowdsourcing idea triggered a spate of backlash among the design community, who saw it as a play for free logo ideas. Mr. Chandler said that a small team of senior executives worked through the weekend, monitoring talk about the brand and its plans to crowdsource a new logo. It quickly determined that it should return to the original logo and that decision was announced internally Oct. 11, as first reported by Ad Age.

The silver lining of the whole ordeal? It was a cheap mistake, money-wise. Unlike PepsiCo's 2009 Tropicana rebranding disaster, which was rolled out on millions of orange juice cartons across the country's grocery aisles, Gap's new logo was quickly swapped out in its upcoming holiday campaign before any holiday collateral was printed.

Mr. Chandler called expenses associated with the rollout and subsequent killing of the logo "minimal, almost inconsequential." And while Ms. Hansen briefly addressed the logo at Gap Inc.'s annual investor day on Oct. 14, no investors asked questions about it.

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Contributing: Andrew Hampp and Rupal Parekh

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