retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Sometimes, it pays to think twice before you think outside of the box.

Particularly if the box in question is the iconic Gap blue box logo. As reported here on MNB and elsewhere, the clothing retailer brought back its original logo last week after a torrent of online criticism of a new, updated logo unveiled on its e-commerce site. The fresh look was trashed on Facebook and Twitter, became a mainstream media story, and drew immediate comparisons to Tropicana’s disastrous logo/packaging redesign.

“Ok, we’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo,” the company wrote its 771,208 followers on its Facebook page after the ill-fated launch. “We’ve learned a lot from the feedback.”

For Gap, and other retailers, the power and immediacy of social networking has ramped “feedback” up to a whole new level. Thanks to blogs, Facebook and other online forums, today’s consumers are increasingly emboldened – sort of a cyber-version of your opinionated Aunt Betty. The term “Twitter-storm” is part of our everyday jargon, and “mommy bloggers” wield power and influence from their laptops. On the internet, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

From damning criticism to passion for the brand, recent postings on the Gap Facebook page are typical:

• “Admit it, this was a marketing stunt, you were never serious about that horrible logo.”

• “Connected Consumers 1; Gap Marketing 0.”

• “I am very delighted. Now let’s go back shopping!”

• “Why change something that works. How moronic.”

• “Thank Gawd!”

Prior to the retreat, Ad Age commissioned a poll to get consumer input on the logo hoopla. Of 1,000 people surveyed, only 17 percent were even aware that the logo had been changed online. But given an opportunity to weigh in, they certainly channeled opinionated Aunt Betty.

More than 60 percent said they preferred the old logo – no surprise. What I found more interesting was that 52 percent said they expected prominent companies to ask for the public’s input before making a major change to its logo, packaging or product. That’s pretty bold, and indicative of today’s consumer.

So here’s the challenge – how do companies encourage innovative thinking without fearing consumer backlash over any change? For Gap, the damage and cost was minimal, as the new logo was only online and had not yet been incorporated into its holiday campaign.

For Tropicana, which rolled out a new design and packaging only to learn consumers were angry because they couldn’t find their favorite orange juice (I was one of them), the misstep was very costly. The same holds true for Sun Chips, which is jettisoning its eco-friendly packaging because consumers complained the biodegradable bags were way too noisy (they are).

Clearly, an online focus group could help prevent a marketing debacle. Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, acknowledged that the retailer "did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community.”

But she didn’t completely rule out thinking outside of the blue box. Said Hansen: "There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we'll handle it in a different way."

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