This post is originally from Nov. 7, 2010 but is a great case of stakeholders (customers) forcing an organization to change directions. This is a paracrisis rather than a crisis. By returning to the old logo (concession response), GAP prevented the situation from becoming an actual reputational crisis. GAP had what can be called a Faux Pas, managers took an action they thought stakeholders would like but stakeholders disliked it. GAP learned from the stakeholder feedback and corrected the strategy. Many lessons and ideas in this case.
On Wednesday Oct. 8, 2010, the Gap unveiled its new logo. Most people, even customers, had no idea of the change. However, some serious customers/fans decided they did not like the new logo and told the Gap so. Social media was the channel and negative Tweets appeared about the logo and people posted to the Gap Facebook about their displeasure with the change. As one post read, “Dear Gap, I have but one query: Did you actually PAY someone to come up with this?” Other though the design was boring and awkward. In truth it was not that different from the old one with the addition of a bluish square above the “p” and the move to the Helvetica font. Check your Word program if you are not sure what Helvetica is. It was just a different style of the word “Gap.” You can see the new, now old logo at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/08/BU2C1FPR7H.DTL&type=business
The first reaction by Gap was to thank it customer/fans for their feedback but ultimately defended the new design. CEO Marka Hansen defended the change in an op-ed for The Huffington Post, but her defense reads like a marketing stump speech: uninspired. “We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.” http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/new-economy/2010/1008/Gap-logo-changes-renaissance-or-mistake
The responses to that justification on Facebook triggered more posts about the logo. While some people liked the new logo, most did not. Some customers were upset that they changed the iconic logo at all. Many people do not like change and might have reacted negatively to anything Gap did to change the logo. Hearing the negative comments, Gap stated: “We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to … see other ideas.” One commentator noted: “For Gap, the test case could be a social-media bonanza. The company did save a huge chunk of cash by not investing in new signs, tags, business cards and billboards with a logo nobody loves.” http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2010/10/gap_logo_gets_internet_hazed_a.html
So Gap is asking customer/fans to submit designs—crowdsourcing. Time will tell if a new logo emerges and how Gap customer/fans will react to it. Of course the “new” logo is still around. Gap may not be able to recall all of its planned holiday advertising featuring the “new” logo. Originally it was to remain on the web site but if you visit http://www.gap.com/ you see the old logo. The “new” logo is no more.
So now the debate begins. Was Gap engaged and properly responding to the outrage it customer/fans expressed in the social media? Was Gap overreacting to minority view of zealots who were too tied to the old logo? That is a matter of opinion. Another question is how must did it cost the Gap to create the logo and how much money will they lose by removing the logo? Remember they need to now replace the design anywhere they have used it. That is easy in the digital world but there is advertising to consider and any print materials that used the “new” logo can no longer be used. The decision was not cheap.
Questions to Consider
1. What is the rational for Gap absorbing the costs and making the changes necessary to remove the “new” logo?
2. What is the rational for Gap to have stayed with the “new” logo?
3. If you were advising management, what choice would you have recommended and why?
4. Is it a good or bad thing that customer/fans can use social media to force corporations to make changes to actions they do not like? Justify you answer drawing from PR theory and practices.
5. Why do you think customer/fans did not respond well to the initial defense of the “new” logo?
6. What does this case tell managers about the need to pre-test messages?
7. What are the dangers and benefits of allowing corporate strategy to be a result of stakeholder demands?
8. How does the case illustrate the potential value of social media to formative research?