Lessons to be learnt from the Gap logo debacle

Gap logos Gap says it learnt from its mistake, on the right

Gap clothing company has ditched its new logo after only one week, due to an online backlash. So what are the perils of changing a company emblem?

Cheapy, tacky, ordinary.

Some of the adjectives used by Gap customers to describe its now-axed logo. After less than one week, it has been consigned to the graveyard inhabited by rejected arrows, squiggles and inadvertently offensive corporate emblems.

The clean font, with a small blue square overlapping the "P", prompted such an outcry that the US clothing firm initially enlisted the help of the public in rethinking the design.

But within days it announced, early on Tuesday morning, it was returning to the solid blue box and "GAP" written in a capitalised serif font, a look introduced 20 years ago.

British customers won't have noticed because the change had yet to be implemented in the UK.

But Gap isn't the first company to learn that messing with one's visual identity is a risky business. So what did it do wrong, and what other logo makeovers have come under fire?

Gap, 2010

For a few days, it was goodbye to the 20-year-old solid blue square and the capital letters, hello to Helvetica and a small blue patch.

Other troubled logos

2012 logo and Cornwall Council logo

New logos like London 2012 and Cornwall Council, which was later ditched, can cause as many problems as revamped ones

Last week, unveiling the new design, Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, said it was more contemporary and current, honouring the "heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward".

But after a slew of criticism, much of it on Facebook, the company promised to take on board customers' own suggested logos as it reconsidered the emblem.

Days later, the purveyor of preppy fashions folded, admitting its mistakes in not consulting its customers first, and reverted to the original.

Gap is trying to change its stripes without changing the product offering, says marketing expert Craig Smith.

"Where marketers often go wrong is they think they have identified an opportunity for the brand to evolve and become something else, become more modern, and they think they can shortcut this by changing the visual identity, and carry the customers with them.

"It's a fundamental error because customers may not be ready to go with you. The product positioning has to change first, then the logo should be the last thing."

American Apparel More Helvetica

My personal feelings are that the typeface is fine, says award-winning logo designer Jon Pink of J Pink Design.

"The letter forms in lowercase have an attractive quality to them and the simplicity is refreshing. I think if that was really a complaint, there would be similar complaints regarding other famous logos which utilise Helvetica in their logos, like American Apparel, [US homewares retailers] Crate&Barrel, Jeep, Panasonic, British Gas and 3M.

"However the addition of the blue square seems to be hated on a united front - it just looks cheap, tacky and very dull. So whilst including some connection of the original logo makes perfect sense in business terms, this illustrates perfectly that logic and reason can play second fiddle to gut instinct."

BP, 2000

BP logos BP went from shield to flower in 2000...

In 2000, BP unveiled a new greener logo, replacing the shield with a green, white and yellow flower-shaped one. At the same time, it adopted the slogan Beyond Petroleum.

The move cost £4.5m ($7m) in brand research, with tens of millions more dollars to be spent supporting the change.

Environmentalists accused the firm of spending more on the logo than on renewable energy.

But it was 10 years later when the dangers of adopting a "green" emblem were clear, says Mr Smith.

BP protest ...but the logo was subverted during protests in 2010

"They've only learnt the error of their ways with the Deepwater Horizon crisis, because you can't pretend that a fossil fuel company is in any sense an eco-friendly brand.

"You immediately lay a trap for yourself. Since the crisis, lots of people online have been corrupting the logo."

The lesson there is that you can't pretend to be something that you're not, he adds.

Tropicana, 2009

Last year, fruit juice firm Tropicana dropped its famous orange and straw illustration from its cartons in the US, in favour of a glass of orange juice, a move that sparked countless complaints and criticism from customers. The brand's owner, PepsiCo, relented and went back to the orange.

Tropicana cartons The glass of juice on Tropicana cartons was short-lived

"The 2009 redesign was meant to contemporise our graphics and, as a result of that, we learned just how passionate consumers are about our brand," says Tropicana's Gina Judge, in an upbeat assessment of the miscalculation.

"A group of very loyal Tropicana fans told us they loved our straw in orange imagery, so we brought that icon back to the packaging."

The new look made the brand look ordinary, says Mr Smith. "For a loved, long-standing household brand there is no such thing as a successful logo overhaul - the only triumph is subtlety.

"For each of the six decades that Tropicana has been a fridge and family staple, its visual identity should have been refreshed. If you unveil a revolutionary redesign, expect your customers to revolt."

In contrast, says Mr Smith, a brand like Heinz has managed to change its logo many times over the years but in such a subtle way that no-one really notices.

BT, 1991

British Telecom's piper was introduced in 1991 and lasted 12 years, but at the time he was widely ridiculed, both for the £50m price tag and the way he looked like he was knocking back a yard of ale. He was preceded by, and later followed by, more conceptual designs.

BT phone box The piper soon became a fixture on British streets

"I think BT were trying to visually embody a human, almost personal element through the piper image," says Mr Pink.

"He is listening and communicating at the same time which would bode well with BT at the time. There is no doubt that depicting a human figure would also help the company achieve a more personal image, perhaps with more focus on customer service than it had before, but the style and pose were its failing points."

The colouring, replacing a purple and yellow "T", was trying to reinforce the British element, he says.

"Once a business has established its brand positioning amongst the general public, it is often the logo that is seen to embody that branding and therefore acts as the visual connection between consumer and business much like we connect a person's face with his personality.

"In fact that is a good analogy to logos and brands - if we think of a brand being someone's personality and the logo being someone's face it makes it easier to see why as humans we like familiarity and how breaking that connection can cause confusion and puzzlement."

Conservative party, 2006

When David Cameron ditched his party's hand-held blue torch for a scribbled tree, former party chairman Lord Tebbit described it as "a bunch of broccoli".

Tory logos From torch to tree

Others said it looked like Mr Cameron's child had drawn it, says Mr Pink, and the softer colour palette was far removed from the very staunch red, white and blue of the old logo.

"I actually feel that criticism was unfair and that this is one of the more thought-out logo revamps of the last decade. Such a sharp change in direction helped David Cameron to distance himself from Lady Thatcher, but also helped the party appear more relaxed and environmentally conscious.

"The oak tree is also a symbol of strength and stability - both of which are great values to portray for a political party.

"Logos are like anything else that has been created- they are very subjective, so drastic changes will always split opinions, but this is one instance where I feel the naysayers have been proven wrong and the designers right."

Below is a selection of your comments

What a weak response from Gap. The old logo is tired, dated and desperately in need of a refresh. The new logo looked fresh and innovative. The public invariably take time to warm to new visual identities and businesses need to stand up and defend the need for change. Alas, not so in this case.

Graham Newsom, Chessington, England

People don't want drastic changes in anything - that's the lesson. Be it relationships, politics, price variations or weather - it brings a knee jerk reaction. And with social media putting raw power in the hands of users, brands need to plan their moves very well.

Rajasekar Raju, Chennai, India

Think the original GAP logo has become a worldwide icon so the right decison has been made. Who can forget the idiocy of the ethnic tail designs on BA planes fiasco. I'm no lover of the Union Jack, but that encapsulated BA across the world for many I'm sure and was unsurprised to see it return.

Gruithainn, Dundee

When I saw the new Gap logo I honestly thought it was for a completely different company, not the clothing firm. Changing a logo is fine, but you need to consider brand awareness, the strength of your brand and what market you are in. When walking around a city centre, shopping precinct or supermarket we all recognise logos, that's what a brand is. Unless GAP are really struggling I don't understand the need to change.

Rob Holmes,

"The new logo looked fresh and innovative", Graham Newson. Really? Does a bland, overused font (evidence aplenty within this article - American Apparel, Crate&Barrel, Jeep, Panasonic, British Gas, 3M...) with an unimaginative and uninteresting small faded blue square really qualify as "innovative" in any way at all? It looked like something out of Microsoft clipart, circa 1995. Terrible. Old logo much better, iconic and a huge improvement. What do we say? "If it ain't broke..."

Alex, Cardiff

If you have a warm feeling associated with a brand then the same goes for its logo. It should only change if the brand is not getting as much attention as it used to get. I still won't buy Pepsi since they changed from the white label to the blue! Blue just makes me think it's Pepsi Max!

Brenda, Armagh

The old Gap logo looks its age, but unfortunately not old enough to take on a retro feel. I do feel that this is controversy that would have passed over very quickly without any perceptible damage to the brand. Gap seems to have been hijacked in its plans less by its customers than by a social media mob.

Peter Blair, London

Please tell me I'm not the only person who greatly pities the people in the "outcry" about the Gap logo change. It really is sad that there are people with nothing more important in their lives to direct their energies towards.

Dave, York

Perhaps a change of logo or corporate name (remember Consignia!) may be more to do with revitalising the careers of 'tired' executives or the need of incoming CEOs to make their mark. Often such changes are so bizarre that it seems incomprehensible that they had been sanctioned by experienced senior managers. And the multi-million pound mistake doesn't appear to automatically crash the career of the boss who championed it. I note that virtually all the major car manufacturers resist the temptation to play around with their logos, whether business be booming or otherwise.

Trevor, Beverley. East Yorkshire

The GAP square is iconic, no question. Perhaps a more subtle approach should have been used - softening the serifs for example but overall keeping the essence of the original. Similarly to how Virgin have done. The same classic 'scrawl' logo but subtley brought forward into the 21st century, a great example of how it should have been done!

Mark Wilde, Derby

This is awesome. If you looked at logos like AT&T, their new logo reflected a certain amount of flexibility and youthfulness. The new GAP logo, for a denim brand, which matures over time, actually looks spanking new, like newly polished tiles, hence the connect is lost. Another logo which is on the fence, is the new PWC logo.

Hephail, Pune, India

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Features

  • Spanner CrabEdible images

    Are these the best food photographs of the past year?


  • Beckford's TowerFolly or fact?

    The unlikely debt capital of Britain


  • European starlingBird-brained

    How 60 starlings multiplied into a nightmare flock of 200 million


  • Observatory in Chile with sun in the backgroundStar struck

    Why tourists are flocking to Chile's observatories


  • Two people using sign language Signing out

    The decline of regional dialects for the deaf


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.