Gap’s New ‘Modern, Sexy, Cool’ Logo Irks Shoppers, Designers

Gap Inc.’s iconic blue-square logo, emblazoned on millions of shirts, hats and bags for more than two decades, got a makeover this week, drawing a backlash from customers who see the new look as ugly and bland.

Gap, a San Francisco-based clothing retailer, released the redesigned logo on its website on Oct. 4 and plans for the image to appear in marketing and some stores starting next month. Customers took to social-media sites to express their displeasure, echoing the negative reactions brought on by Tropicana’s tweaked logo and the formula change of New Coke.

“The original Gap logo is classic and iconic,” said Eric Mai, a 24-year-old Facebook user in Newport News, Virginia, one of more than 400 people posting to Gap’s page on the social-networking site. “By changing it, you’ve completely destroyed what it took 20-plus years to build.”

The new logo sets the Gap name against a white backdrop, with a blue square in the upper-right corner. Gap, which owns Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta, has been updating its clothing lines and stores to appeal to so-called Millennials -- consumers in their 20s and early 30s. The new logo is part of that plan, said Louise Callagy, a spokeswoman for the company.

“If you’ve been watching Gap over the past year, our customers have seen how we’ve been evolving our brand identity,” she said. That includes the company’s 1969 line of jeans, its men’s khaki pants and the store design. “Our brand and clothes are changing, so we want our logo to reflect that change.”

American Look

Callagy described the company’s products as switching from “what was classic, American design, to modern, sexy, cool.”

Chief Executive Officer Glenn Murphy has focused on the Gap brand since he joined the company three years ago, part of a bid to revive growth. Sales at Gap stores in North America open at least a year have declined six straight months, including a 1 percent drop in September, while Old Navy and Banana Republic have made gains this year. Gap, as a whole, hasn’t increased annual sales since fiscal 2005.

Some blogs are making sport of the change. The site is offering a $50 iTunes gift card to whoever can come up with the funniest caption to accompany the retailer’s new image. More than 150 commenters have left suggestions, including “Gap’s new branding inspiration: PowerPoint ‘97,” “Bringing ugly back” and “Gap: Our new logo? Yeah, your mom made it.”

‘Passionate Debates’

The company issued a statement on its Facebook page yesterday, saying they were “thrilled to see the passionate debates unfolding” and welcomed design suggestions, calling it a crowd-sourcing project.

“It shows you the power of social media,” said Sandra Fathi, president of Affect Strategies, a New York-based public-relations, strategic marketing and social-media firm. “What people might have privately said walking into a store -- now they can actually share their view with others and rally around a cause to change back the logo.”

By not asking customers on Facebook and Twitter for feedback before unveiling the redesign, Gap missed an opportunity, said Debbie DeGabrielle, chief marketing officer of Visible Technologies, a Bellevue, Washington-based social-media monitoring company.

Broadening the Discussion

“If you’re contemplating a rebranding of your company, why wouldn’t you invite those loyal people to be a part of that journey with you, and feel some ownership and pride in that process?” she said.

Laird & Partners, a New York-based branding agency, designed the new label, Callagy said. The company also has worked on brands for Juicy Couture, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein Underwear. Trey Laird, who runs the firm, declined to comment.

“People often react negatively to change,” said Glenn Bunting, managing director of public-relations firm Sitrick & Co. “If you really want to judge whether the new Gap logo is a success, you can’t do it in a week or month. You have to look at how the retailer is faring a year from now. A lot of people didn’t like the look of the new Mustang when it came out, but Ford stuck with the redesign and it proved popular.”

In 2008, PepsiCo Inc. decided to alter the image of a straw-pierced orange on its Tropicana cartons because the products “looked tired on the shelf,” according to Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi. Consumers rebelled, and Pepsi reverted to the old look.

Missed Mark

“A couple of brand refreshers did not hit the mark,” Nooyi said earlier this year. “We went back and fixed whatever didn’t work.”

The backlash against Coca-Cola Co.’s New Coke, released in 1985, forced the company to revert to its old formula. Coca-Cola refers to the incident as “a day that will live in marketing infamy,” by spawning consumer angst “the likes of which no business has ever seen.”

Web reaction to Gap’s new logo rises to the level of “dislike,” as opposed to outright anger, said Jonathan Spier, CEO of marketing research company NetBase Solutions Inc. in Mountain View, California. NetBase’s software sifted through 75 million social-media sources, finding thousands of comments on the switch.

“People talk about it being bland and having a more corporate feel,” Spier said. “But the other thing I found interesting was the number of people expressing nostalgia for the old label, saying it’s classic or classy, or had an old-school feel to it.”