Oct 16 2010
While I don’t have too much time this week for a lengthy discussion on how Gap (and their agency of record, Laird and Partners) completely botched a rollout of a new identity, I felt it wrong to let it go by without considering a few key aspects of the blunder from a branding perpective.
Brands have a significant responsibility to consumers and the general public. While this goes far beyond the superficial layer of their identity, Gap Inc. has failed to uphold their responsibility to their customers, stakeholders and the general public in a few key ways. Their brand and all that it represents to their customers constitutes their “brand promise.” And for a very long time, Gap has done huge amounts of work (very well until now, actually) and invested a large amount of money into delivering on that promise – and gaining trust of a large and loyal customer base – both with the quality of their communication as well as their product. Then on October 4, 2010, they completely violated that trust by launching an identity that seemed by many (by all accounts the entire free world) to be hastily pushed out. So hastily in fact, that as David Cundy points out in his review the launch that it was done with “almost no executive fanfare, no press release, and minimalistic after-the-fact rationales.”
The connections retailers like Gap make with their customers can often span the spectrum from pragmatic and basic (“Their clothes are made with quality materials, and I would never buy anything else”) to emotional and nostalgic (“Every time I put this sweater on, it reminds me of why I shop with there – how it feels, how it fits me…and oh, yeah – there was that date with the girl when I wore this….“). I would wager that as Gap launched their new identity, many of us looked on with a pretty strong reaction from a place somewhere in between these two points on the spectrum – maybe it was confusion, or in my case, shock and awe.
Epic FAIL of Crowdsourced Proportions
While Gap has made a series of strange choices and bad decisions in their handling of this rebranding, their response to the backlash by deciding to open up the design dialog via crowd-sourced submissions is, In my opinion, by far the most awful among them. This move equates to speculative work, and as an AIGA member I take strong offense to this, both for what it does to the creative process, but more importantly to the value of design as a strategic business component. Shortly after the Gap rebrand and their plea to the public for ideas, AIGA executive director Richard Grefé sent a note to Gap to voice the opinion of the AIGA. In it, Grefé pointed out both the potential effects of their decision on their brand and to defend the AIGA’s policy on speculative work on behalf of their over 20,000 members (myself included). Since I can’t put it any better than he did, I won’t try:
Clients risk compromised quality as little time, energy and thought can go into speculative work, which precludes the most important element of most design projects—the research, thoughtful consideration of alternatives, and development and testing of prototype designs
Designers are taken advantage of as clients see this as a way to get free work; it diminishes the true economic value of the contribution designers make toward client’s objectives.
There are legal risks for both parties should aspects of intellectual property, trademark and trade-dress infringements become a factor.
If you crowdsource your logo design, you would demonstrate a disrespect for the professional design community and the value of creative property; compromise your likelihood of an effective outcome that meets all of your needs; and undoubtedly perpetuate a cacophony of critical voices in the blogosphere. Designers are influentials in the social community, including on style; it seems this is a community that you should listen to and respect, not demean. If your proposal to crowdsource a redesign was an effort to be more open to commentary, then we would recommend that you define it more narrowly as an effort to obtain perspective, but not design.
Then, in a move to recover their dignity, Gap reeled back in an October 11 press release, as Gap president Marka Hansen stated:
We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.
“There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way.
So, perhaps Gap is attempting to save face and can now maybe see the error in their ways as they rewind their blunder and reconsider a smarter course of action, but as for their customers (and for sure the design community) they will, for the unforeseeable future, have to deal with a rift between their brand and their customers…quiet a “gap”, in fact (ouch).
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