There was no official debut. No press conference. No PR stunt with celebrities in khakis. Two weeks ago, Gap simply put a completely new logo in the masthead of their web site and waited for the public’s reaction. If it could be summed up in one word, that word might be:
Gap’s logo had a classic look. Three white capital letters in a stretched serif face, centered inside a blue square. It was distinct and recognizable, though a bit challenging for the horizontal geometry of storefronts and retail signage. The new logo could have been designed by Opposite George of Seinfeld fame: The font was sans serif, bold, cap and lower, black type on white. A small blue box was perched on the upper right corner of the ‘p’ in Gap.
You know how it feels when a friend gets a really different haircut? This was like Betty White with a Mohawk. A big, inexplicable change. The public hated it, took to the blogosphere and about a week later Gap sheepishly returned to their previous logo.
An evolution often generates no real fanfare. But a revolution makes a lot of noise. Gap didn’t just nudge their old logo aside. They blew it up. They kept a footnote of equity with the blue box, but even that had a gradient in it that was new. And yet they chose to introduce the logo with no explanation, no warning, and judging by their hedging comments and then capitulation after a tsunami of negative comments and alternative suggestions, little conviction in the design.
Does this serve as evidence that public backlash is steering brands more than ever? Maybe. The ability to lash back has never been stronger, but it also speaks to the tentative way in which Gap debuted the logo. Because it was introduced quietly with no buzz, rationale, kick-off, etc., it was left to twist in the fierce wind of digital recriminations, second-guessing, and just plain, “huh?”
In contrast, another retailer by the name of Walmart introduced their new logo about two years ago (did you even notice?) with very little confusion. Their logo also abandoned all caps and morphed a significant element, the “star” between “WAL” and “MART,” into a sun-like mark. But it kept a familiar color scheme and proportion and was explained in uninspiring but sufficient terms as “…part of an ongoing evolution of [our] overall brand.”
The link between logo and brand is the most direct, graphic connection that customers can have with your brand concept. It’s an anchor point; a shorthand for all the meaning in your brand experience. Yet there inevitably comes a time when the logo should be updated, or even totally redesigned. The question is, when? Major re-branding efforts usually kick-off with a new logo. But beyond that, changing a logo is a delicate matter. Logos typically retain a lot of equity and are the most recognizable part of a brand’s visual identity. Nonetheless, here are a few guidelines that often indicate the need for an updated logo:
- Your employees ask, “What were they thinking when they designed this logo?” and no one knows the answer.
- The logo seems to have no connection to your current brand concept.
- Your current logo reminds people a little too much of where you’ve been and not enough about where you’re going.
- Customers or prospects sometimes confuse your logo with another company’s.
- Your logo has several different configurations and no one is sure which is the definitive design.
Walmart’s logo change was timely and handled relatively smoothly as part of a broad corporate effort to soften the edges of the brand. Gap’s temporary logo was largely unexplained. If there was a bigger idea behind it, we just didn’t know about it. But, perhaps, an evolutionary approach would have been better received.
Morton’s Salt is a great example of evolving a logo (and package) over time to stay current while retaining brand equity. The elements stay familiar-dark blue background, young girl with umbrella, but their logotype has evolved, as have the size and placement of the brand elements. So it is important to both know the warning signs of an obsolete logo and to approach the redesign with respect for the existing equity in the design. (And be sure you can answer the question in guideline #1!)
The Gap Flap was a misadventure, but it was a clear lesson that revising a logo should not be taken lightly. And changing it completely? Don’t ask me. Ask Gap.