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The Gap: How To Not Rebrand.

Was it all a dream? The whole experience certainly ended quickly enough—so fast that it made the last week feel like a scene ripped from "Inception." To say that Gap tried to refresh their brand—and failed miserably—would probably qualify as “Understatement of the Year.” Their decision was certainly a head scratcher.

The problems with the design should have been obvious from the moment the concept began circling Gap’s headquarters. It was bland, it was boring, and it definitely failed to captured the essence of the “Gap” brand—unless, of course, they wanted to be regarded with such dullness. Just consider the uncanny similarities between Gap’s new logo and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ recently updated logo. We highly doubt the clothing retailer’s grand strategy included associations to a mega accountancy firm, but that is what the brand looked like. As it stands, the sole trait that really felt unique about the design was its ability to be so memorable and, yet, so forgettable at the same time. We examined the events over and over again only to deduce two logical reasons that might explain this fiasco.

In what has become the general consensus based on the public outcry, the first scenario suggests that consumers take the debacle as exactly that—an error in judgment. Now Gap wants to rectify it. However, if true, this explanation invites so many more questions. For example, what kind of focus testing had Gap conducted before the design’s release? What other designs had they considered that ultimately pushed them in this direction?

Most importantly, what about this logo convinced them that it captured the refreshed image they were striving to achieve? All of it is really enough to incite a sudden migraine. If we ignore this initial theory, then only one other logical explanation enlightens these events—deliberate sabotage.

This alternate scenario should prove sufficient to whet the appetite of any conspiracy theorist. Yes, we submit for your approval the theory that the Gap intentionally released an updated logo as a PR stunt. Their brand awareness was not exactly at the forefront of conversation as of late. Knowing that the release would generate negative feedback, while simultaneously creating a major buzz around the brand through an outpouring of support for the old logo, they 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 one week! Business implications aside, something about this speedy recall screams suspicious.

If this all 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. In a quick change so fast it would make Superman jealous, what was “new Gap” became “old” again. From the perspective of peers and rivals, 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. The entire experience has left a bad taste in people’s mouths. And try as they might to forget, the taste still lingers.

Regardless of which theory happens to prove correct, one fact remains. The Gap has put its brand equity in jeopardy. It will be interesting to see if and how they come back from it.

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