GAP: 6 years later — still worst rebrand ever.

On October 6 2010, GAP unveiled their new logo. The first redesign in 24 years. The reaction was swift and unequivocal. And bad. The redesign attracted the kind of mainstream attention and brought down the kind of wrath that, for a marketer, must be horrifying to watch, but at the same time provide some valuable lessons.The whole experience certainly ended quickly enough — 6 days. To say that Gap tried to refresh their brand — and failed miserably — is a serious an understatement. But what happened?

Years later, we are still all scratching our heads as there is still no certainty about Gap’s motivations behind the 2010 rebrand that triggered “Gapgate”. There are two explanations that everyone has mulled over the years.

Error in judgment.

The first scenario suggests a (massive) error in judgment. Gap quickly retracted to fix the issue. Immediately, their US CEO asked for spec work from the design community to help guide them. The ideas that this was the fruit of a strategically driven process is hard to believe. None of what ended-up being the new logo is justified by an such strategy. The impulsive reaction to ask for help from the community was also unheard of, and absolute non-sense. Showing the complete lack of understanding of how a brand identity must be developed. Unsurprisingly, she left the company just 4 months later.

PR stunt.

The second scenario should prove sufficient to whet the appetite of any conspiracy theorist. Gap may intentionally have released an updated logo as a PR stunt. Their brand strength was not where they wanted it to be. Knowing that the release would generate tons of feedback and free publicity, while simultaneously creating a major buzz around the brand through an outpouring of support for the old logo, they may have set their marketing strategy into place and ran with it. Most businesses would commit to a new logo in spite of a backlash, but the Gap bowed to mob rule after just days! Business implications aside, something about this speedy recall screams suspicious. If this was, in fact, part of a master plan to bring Gap back into the media spotlight, while nudging their consumers to remember why they loved Gap in the first place, we think most branding experts would agree that they went about it the wrong way. And the decision to resurrect their old logo appears more like an act of retreat and weakness rather than one respectfully admitting their mistake. Furthermore, the company’s brand awareness may have risen, but every association drawn from it has been negative. And for that reason, it was not a hoax. Because it was going to fail no matter what, at an estimated price tag of $100 million.

My take.

Gapgate was not about the design and launch of new logo. It was not about crappy creative, It was not about bad briefs, lazy designers or naive clients. It was not about bad agency-client communication. It was not a stunt. Gap gate was about arrogance. It was about the company’s unplanned rebranding, with complete disregard for the basic rules of branding, brand identity, and brand launch and communications programs roll-out. The arrogance to think that their “iconic” brand could get away with breaching all the most fundamental rules of branding and still come out on top. Well, that did not happen. And although this took place years ago, there may be many more years before GAP tries to rebrand again.

By Gaetan Fraikin, Brand strategist. Follow me on Twitter @gfraikin