Last week Gap unveiled a new logo on its Web properties, including its Facebook page. This move immediately unleashed a fury of traffic and comments on Facebook, Twitter, and design blogs, with sentiment ranging from “hideous” to “who cares?” In reaction to the momentum behind the negative comments, it didn’t take long for Gap to backpedal, first by trying to hold a competition to crowdsource a new logo. This drew even more ire from the design community, and — as my colleague Doug Williams writes — was exactly the wrong way to go about a crowdsourcing project. So, at the end of the day, Gap scrapped it all and restored its old logo to its Facebook page, its eCommerce site, etc.

This is a fascinating story on so many levels, and overall it demonstrates some serious misjudgment of how the logo and Gap’s strategy for rolling it out would be received by the company’s followers and the social media world in general. As a market researcher, I’d be interested to understand what research the company did before the launch on October sixth. I have two assumptions here:

  • Gap didn’t do much customer research to inform its decision, and it wasn’t very confident in any research it did carry out. Did the company take the time to build a keen understanding of the particular kind of Gap customer it was targeting with this rebranding?
  • The company changed its logo back due to opinion on social media alone, but did it understand to what extent this sentiment was the same among its broader base? An Ipsos poll commissioned by AdAge just three days after the launch revealed that 80% of the respondents didn’t even knew that Gap had changed its logo. It’s all very reminiscent of Tropicana’s rebranding debacle in 2009.

It’s a shame to see how uninformed the company’s overall strategy appears to have been. This example is a reminder — once again — that obvious changes to a big brand’s look, feel, and experience carries risk, especially when social media is involved. It’s important to take these risks, but they must be balanced by research that can hold water in the face of potential backlash.

Maybe the team responsible for this effort would have gotten a sense of whether or not it actually needed to change the logo had it explored the idea with a select group of customers in a market research online community (MROC). Or, if confidentiality was not a concern, it could have sampled opinions from Gap’s Twitter or Facebook accounts. Maybe, some ideas could have been tested in some of these same forums. Technology, including virtual stores or eye-tracking, now provides us with so much more flexibility in how we can try and predict success on things like this. At the very least, even if Gap had gone ahead with the rebrand, some GOOD research would have provided more context than social media alone when it came to crafting a response and coming up with next steps.

This wasn’t a case of Henry Ford asking people what they wanted only to be told to build faster horses. That quote in my mind is in reference to creating a whole new kind of product and giving way a new market. The Gap example is about rebranding an already existing product in an already existing market. And isn’t that worth some exploration beforehand?