What Gap Learned the Hard Way: You Don't Own the Brand

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

For years now it's been a marketing maxim that a brand's consumers, not marketers, own the brand. Turns out consumers now think so, too.

Recently Gap found that out the hard way. The retailer's ill-fated new logo was the story of last week as it decided to ditch the derided revamped design and return to the classic blue box with the serif Gap font. While the Helvetica font in the new-now-scrapped logo has been described on Creativity as "bland as grilled chicken without salt and pepper" and "like combining a bunch of zombie elements," the bigger problem was in Gap's handling of the rollout -- and reaction to the backlash.

Gap should have been more considerate in not only choosing its redesign but also launching it. While only 17% of consumers had seen or heard of it, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted by Ipsos Observer on behalf of Ad Age, more than half of consumers say they expect to be consulted when a brand revamps its identity.

And academic research from West Virginia University's Michael F. Walsh suggests that it's often a brand's "most committed" customers who have the biggest problem adjusting to a brand's logo revamp, suggesting they should be engaged in the rollout -- not surprised when it suddenly appears on the website. And Gap should have treaded more carefully once the criticism ensued. The retailer posted a message on its Facebook page addressing the critics and saying that in light of the response to its new logo it will be conducting a "crowdsourcing project." That only enraged the design community, which saw it as a cheap ploy to get spec work for free.

As Noemi Pollack, of the Pollack PR Group in Los Angeles, wrote on AdAge.com: "Here are my two cents: Decide to be inclusive or not before a new logo is designed and then, accordingly, put systems into place where customers can offer input before a rollout -- not after the fact, as Gap did."

Logos are important symbols for many brands, and Gap's was nothing if not iconic.

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