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315. A GAP In Confidence.

Courtesy of: now the whole design world - and the rest of the world at large perhaps - have heard about the new GAP identity introduced last week. The controversial mark was produced by Laird and Partners and highlighted in the usual top-notch style over at Brand New, which recently posted a follow-up because the traffic and interest was so high. Read those two pieces if for no other reason than to get to this quip: "Fake logo Twitter accounts: just a few inches from rock bottom, people". More on that later. If for some reason you've managed to avoid all the hub-bub (and good for you if you have,) here's a quick, one paragraph run-down.

Gap tweaks their website to include their name set in a husky Helvetica with a gradient blue field in the upper right corner as if a superscript mark. A few design blogs pick up on it and the new identity gets roundly booed. Never before has safe, boring, old Helvetica generated such venom. (Well at least since the backlash after Helvetica the movie was released and it became way too cool for any designer to like anymore.) Then on GAP's Facebook page the retailer of the basics pretty much asked the world for their ideas via a crowdsourced spec project. They love their design but want to see what others can do. Huh? This move creates even more disdain as nothing is as controversial as crowdsourcing these days. The new logo is everywhere. It's being denounced, but it's everywhere. Or at least everywhere in ad / design circles.

The Old & New Identity Comparison:

So, what are people saying now? That it must have been a genius marketing move to use the fast-spreading design blogs to trumpet GAP all over the internet for free. Matt Dolphin ends an open-letter by basically congratulating them for a campaign of which other retailers would be jealous. You can read it here but it can be summed up by the old adage that any publicity is good publicity. To be fair, he also raises some very wise points about the necessity for context and press releases when launching a new look. Apparently AIGA and Bryan Byczek have written and posted open letters as well.

To give you an idea of how well spread this design debacle is — the parody machine is already kicking, quite possibly furthering the argument above. You can already GAPimize your own brand, via the Crap Logo Generator by the Barbarian Group. No, I'm not going to show you an image of Graphicology's crap logo because 1: I have better things to do and 2: I don't want to see it in a future gap agency case study on how this 'fake ugly logo project' became viral. Not that I think this was done on purpose. It wasn't. There is also the aforementioned fake twitter account, which is pretty funny for 15 seconds of fame. Maybe 12 seconds actually.

So it's chaos. Nobody is sure if GAP is going to stick with their new combination mark or if they will retreat and go back to their 'old' identity. They've created the design equivalent of a marketing crisis pretty much without reason. However because of the industry GAP is in and because of their recent struggles to halt same-store sales declines, this publicity is certainly not good publicity. There is only one thing you need to survive in fashion let alone advertising and that thing is confidence. There are companies aplenty doing all sorts of less than perfect marketing but because they do so with confidence people embrace them. And in fashion the need for confidence is particularly acute. Have you seen a catwalk lately? The only way you can pull off some of that 'design' is with a knowing look of self-assurance. The Diesel Stupid campaign may lack taste, originality, and soul but it certainly screams confidence. What GAP is communicating to retail shoppers is an uncertainty that almost means death in this industry. If they can't design their own brand, why the heck do I want them to design the clothes that I buy? Maybe they should crowdsource that instead and leave the identity to the professionals?

GAP's 1969 Premium Jeans had a slightly better launch:

GAP's design agency knows all about this necessary confidence too, having produced sophisticated work for Donna Karen, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, Vera Wang, and Bottega Veneta to name just a few. These brands stand for a lot of things but they all stand for confidence. Unfortunately GAP lost their confidence a long time ago. Long before this little identity crisis too.

This design is only the latest in a string of tepid marketing. It's been more than a decade since GAP was on fire, doing promotion and advertising work that was the best of the best and producing clothes that although usually basic were in high demand. Yes the spots generally used the tried and true celebrity or popular music, but they felt exactly perfect for the brand. They were culturally relevant and appropriate. I submit the following as Exhibit A: the Khaki Swing spot from 1998 or so. Some said this spot helped bring back swing in the late nineties, but it certainly helped make GAP successful. This spot is just as confident as any of Apple's iMac and VW Beetle work from about the same time.

GAP's Khaki Swing from 1998:

My how fast the mighty have fallen. Today, GAP is almost invisible. There is one positive to come out of this mess—if we are all lucky. I've said this before but I think because the backlash has been so wide and heated that companies may actually think twice before launching another lifeless, bland, meaningless sans-based look. That would be a grand silver lining indeed. But before you decry the new identity design as the beginning of the end for the retailer you might want to look further back. The self-esteem on display in the above ad has gone somewhere into the ether and they desperately need to find it. There is hope and one needs only to look towards Old Spice to see what a little swagger can do for a brand. Confidence and a great agency.

In my best fashion designer voice: I hope they learn to work it again.

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Reader Comments (2)

We pretty much feel the same way... This whole mess could and should have been avoided. No worries, we did some damage control and came up with a valid concept, check out our [Making Brands Work Blog]
October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSTARMEN Design Group
I agree with you 100%
October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA-N-D

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