Dear Kevin Grady: An Epic Logo Rebuttal

Kevin Grady of Siegel + Gale wrote about the problems with the logos attempted by Gap and Airbnb in a short essay for Fast Company magazine’s design blog. It’s a quick read. Mr Grady’s article is titled “The Lesson of Two Epic Logo Debacles.” I have some issues with it, so I wrote this open letter to Kevin.

Hello Kevin.

I read your piece on the Gap and Airbnb logo kerfuffles. Your article appeared on the Fast Company Design blog. I am dismayed that this blog has become the tabloid of design coverage. Truthfully, your article is better than its headline — which I assume you were not responsible for. But your comments, squeezed to the length of a People magazine story, only scratch the surface of the effect of social media on brand identity.

I’d like to point out that you never mention the word “debacle” in discussing what happened with Airbnb and Gap. The headline is cheap clickbait and ill-suited to the focus of your article. Is it merely another exercise in provoking a social media response? Ah, Fast Company! You got me again! This sort of poking the bear, or flash of nudity, is merely another useless distraction. Our discourse deserves better than that.

The first flag in your reporting comes in your introductory bit on Airbnb.

“Airbnb unveiled their company’s new logo… amid criticism that the mark resembled unmentionable parts of the human anatomy.”

Vagina? Testes? Penis? These parts really aren’t so unmentionable. Does reading words that denote genitalia make you blush? Fill you with rage? Curious. Please imagine Leonard Nimoy as Spock saying that last line.

We are adults. Can we agree that suggesting something resembles sex organs can be done without shame, embarrassment, or cultural upheaval?

Those who saw genitalia in the Airbnb logo — called Bélo — were saying more about themselves than the logo. This was a cultural Rorschach test; anyone who felt compelled to share their visions of genitals, was exposing the power of their id to make them see sex in symbols. And, let’s say for the sake of argument, that the nod to genital architecture was intentional. Kudos to the brilliance of the designer who must have anticipated the deluge of free press Airbnb would get from this pseudo-controversy.

The attempted Gap rebrand — a failure that might actually qualify as a business debacle — suffered from poor foresight, incomplete or incorrect testing, and a bad premiere. The short-lived logo is not nearly as bad as it was deemed to be. For any Game of Thrones fans (Episode 5 finale spoiler alert) — that Gap logo was the Cersei Lannister of logos. Bad. But undeserving of the publicly naked humiliation it received. Winter is coming.

Your closing sentence is the best bit of your piece.

“In today’s landscape, if a brand isn’t in complete sync with the tastes, sensibilities, and desires of its core customers, it has more to worry about than the logo.”

You make a good point, but I question your complete sync assertion. Brands need to deliver goods and services that appeal to their customers — period. That appeal will assist in closing a deal, making a sale, or initiating a subscription — or it won’t. But, you are correct that brands that do not appeal to their core customers have “more to worry about” than their logos. Brand consultants might claim that larger problem can be addressed through effective “branding.” I disagree. The solution is not branding — it’s better business. And better business is achieved through deft achievements in the myriad aspects of any business that supersede the skin-deep, narcissistic obsession with brand.

Companies that look to change by appealing to their customers are attempting to reverse-engineer success. Delivering an appealing product or service does not happen by crafting appeal. Crafting appeal is the job of advertising, aided by effective marketing. The product must exist to be marketed and advertised. And advertising might get an audience to notice, but anything less than appealing product or service will not succeed beyond that initial notice. Great brands are great not because of branding. Brands are great because what they make, or sell, or offer, is great.


Bill Dawson