10 October 2010

Gap And MySpace re:brands in crisis.

One of the problems of rebranding led by high profile logo redesign is that it can expose the  lack of thorough consideration of what the process itself is designed to achieve.

It now seems Gap and now MySpace have fallen victim to the inevitable focus on the pretty picture, rather than the big picture.

While no one would necessarily argue that either companies are suffering. Gap has annual sales of US$9.12b and MySpace is still the world's second largest social network with more than 50m users. However, both have significant brand problems which no logo redesign is going to solve, even if the claim is that this is only one part of a more r/evolutionary path.

In Gap's case, the brand has been struggling with frumpy perception issues for years as its core product has come under threat from more highly attuned brands like HandM, Uniqlo and Zara. It hasn't been helped by falling sales. Same-store revenue at Gap stores fell 1% in September but it wasn't as bad as the 8% drop in 2009.

MySpace has also been similarly blighted. Global revenues are expected to fall by 21% this year, under News ownership its suffered from constant management flux, a falling headcount and Qantcast estimates US visitors are leaving in droves with numbers down by 10m between April and September.

And obviously Gap didn't see anything worth learning from Kraft Australia's painful debacle last year when it crowdsourced its new iSnack 2.0 as the new name for an extension of its popular Vegemite brand. Despite the use of a highly anonymous panel of "brand experts" to vet the process (I suspect they were all internal), the result was a resounding public relations thud and a frank mea culpa from Kraft that 48000 submissions later, the name was axed. Gap pretty much followed the same sad route.

The lesson: unrestrained crowd sourcing of an extremely popular and well known brand is inevitable folly. More so, don't focus on the tactical.

Perhaps Gap recognised this when it posted on its Facebook page what could only be regarded as the beginning of a reversal: “Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. 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. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”

Gap North America president Marka Hansen later engaged in further dissembling on Huffington Post claiming that the rebrand came from a desire "to see how our logo - one that we've had for more than 20 years - should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that.

"We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today. We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward, " she said.

While Hansen said Gap was "listening" and would continue to take customers on the "journey" and consider their design submissions, the damage to the brand and reputation is already irreversible. Even more laughable now that the new logo has been dumped.

Put simply, Gap recognised there was a problem with the old logo and claims it's doing something about product and stores, but a brand is the sum of all parts. Hansen as a senior executive should know better, Gap needs radical brand reinvention not revitalisation. If Gap has been in a three year turnaround, as Hansen claims, where's the resulting sales? The brand tracker? And more importantly, what's the strategy? It really needs to start with some clarity of brand vision bought out of deeper customer insight as well as a braver sense of brand stewardship. All of which might have gone AWOL at Gap, a fact clearly exposed last week and confirmed when it announced plans to dump the new logo as quickly as it showed it to Facebook.

One would hope MySpace management has been watching Gap's PR tsunami and sees something to learn. It's new logo is not even launched yet. But the conversation has started, MySpace might want to rethink its already creaking credibility.

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