Gap's New Logo All Wrong—Except How It Was Launched

Apparel retailer Gap may not know logos, but it's not completely clueless about E-Commerce. The $3.8 billion chain unveiled a new logo this month (Oct. 4) and was immediately hit with a firestorm of complaints on its Facebook page from customers who hated it. A week later, the new logo was gone, replaced by the familiar blue box that Gap has used for 20-plus years. Now the second-guessing is in full swing—including an analysis from a market-research company called Neurofocus, which claims Gap botched its new logo by violating "neuroscience best practices." Uh huh. Right.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that the now-defunct new logo was pretty dowdy; it looked like a subway sign that someone defaced with a square blue sticker. But Gap made use of one very good E-tail practice: It launched the logo on its Web site a month before it was scheduled to appear in stores. That approach isn't limited to questionable rebrandings; by piloting anything from new products to loyalty programs to customer reviews on a retail Web site, you can get a good read on customer reaction—and pull the plug fast in case of a catastrophe.

In Gap's case, the new logo turned out to be a catastrophe with customers. But the chain was able to delete it so completely that we couldn't find a sample anywhere on Gap's site to show you what it looked like—and just in time to not show up in Gap's upcoming global E-Commerce rollout.

That backpedal wouldn't have been possible in the past. If consumers hated a rebranding, a retailer usually had to stick with it, hoping customers would eventually get used to the new look. It would have been kept secret from competitors until the last minute, so it could be rolled out in as many stores as possible for a big-bang unveiling. Stepping back from that kind of logo launch—say, ripping new signs out of 1,100 stores—would almost never happen.

This time, though, Gap didn't try for a single big bang. It launched the new logo on its Web site first—not to test consumer reaction, apparently, but just because the retailer could throw the switch there much faster than signs could go up in its stores.

The result of that impatience was a stroke of dumb luck: A fierce, immediate backlash on Gap's Facebook page. Within two days, a company spokesperson was backpedaling, saying Gap was looking for suggestions on the logo and claiming it could be improved through a crowd-sourcing project. A week after the logo launched it was gone, except for online news stories and Web sites ridiculing it.

Yes, it was a failure—but it was a very successful failure. Brick-and-mortar Gap customers never saw the failed logo in a store. Online customers were only annoyed for a week.

Rebranding is tailor-made for an E-commerce site. Gap could have done it a lot more smoothly, maybe rolling out the new logo just on one section of the site to keep the impact to a minimum until it got a read on customer reaction. But in the end, the new logo was rolled out, and then rolled back up, in record time.Some observers have suggested that the whole rollout/rollback process was actually a clever campaign on the part of Gap: Announce a logo that your customers will hate, then show everyone how well you listen to customers by "reversing" yourself. That seems unlikely, though. It's not costly to trot out a bad logo, but it would be very expensive to develop a bad logo as a stunt. Like creating a bad Web site, it's just as hard to create an intentionally bad logo as it is to create a good one. (And if customers like the "bad" logo, you've got a real problem.)

On the other hand, testing new E-tailing ideas in one corner of your site can be tricky but useful—even ideas you're not sure are good ideas. Are customer comments likely to swamp you with work, trying to weed out spam and offensive material? A small test is a lot easier to manage, and rolling it back if it turns out to be a mistake is much easier.

What about letting customers click to see products in different colors or combinations—say, mixing and matching clothing on a virtual mannequin or a 360-degree view? That comes across as gimmicky if the tech isn't polished well enough, and it looks cheesy if there's not enough server power and network bandwidth available to make it work for customers. A corner-of-the-site pilot can put something new in front of customers but still keep it low profile until it's ready to expand to the entire site and possibly even to in-store kiosks—or, if it turns out to be unworkable, to kill quietly.

In fact, almost anything that could generate a strong reaction from customers or require a lot more IT resources to run or manage is easier to test on your E-commerce site. Just remember that, if the time comes, it's easier to kill, too.

Back to that Neurofocus report. It was an interesting scientific analysis, an attempt to put into words (make that "very expensive words") what most consumers instantly recognized: The new logo was quite bad.

Whether it's over-analysis or not is hard to tell. Quoting from a summary of the report Neurofocus put out: "When words overlay images, the brain tends to ignore or overlook the word in favor of focusing on the image. In the new logo, the 'p' superimposed over the blue square is essentially bypassed by the brain. The brain tends to ignore the word in favor of the image. Not a good thing when that's your brand name."

The next part of the analysis pushes the credibility limit. "Forcing the brain to view a sharply angled box behind the letter 'p' provokes what neuroscience calls an 'avoidance response.' The hard line cuts into the rounded shape of the letter. We are hard-wired to avoid sharp edges—in nature, they can present a threat. Our so-called modern brains are actually 100,000 years old and they retain this primordial reaction."

So our Neanderthal inner caveman saw the logo and feared it would hurt us? Well, if it hadn't been for the Web testing, the inner cavemen at Gap might have been on the right track.