The Gap found itself in a bad publicity storm last week after it quietly replaced its iconic blue box logo, only displaying the new one on its website, leading some to question its authenticity.
However, most of the internet chatter focused on the merits of the new logo, with most critics sounding off on its bland simplicity, lack of uniqueness and the font similarity to retailer American Apparel. Many even called the logo and tactic an embarrassment.
But the Gap was not done embarrassing itself. Despite insistence of excitement over the "passionate debates," the Gap announced a mysterious new crowdsourcing project to acquire fresh input and causing further outcry of a internet publicity stunt. Later, a Gap spokeswoman defended the change, calling it "more contemporary" and reflective on the Gap's "evolving brand identity."
Still, many questions linger. Did the overwhelming criticism force the Gap to ditch its plans and start a crowdsourcing project or was it the plan all along? If the latter is true, it all but confirms the tactic as a internet stunt.
And its a safe assumption that the Gap's refusal to comment on its plans for a further rollout of the new emblem is a sure sign that its destined for a short life.
However, maybe the most significant consequence from last week was the bleak reminder just how far the Gap brand has fallen. It again reminds us of the fact that "how do you fix the Gap brand" is becoming an age old question for marketers.
The fundamental answer to any such brand question is to a need shift how consumers perceive the brand and only then will they have the "evolving brand image" that they speak of. Certainly a tall order, made more difficult because there is no guarantee of success; brand perceptions don't always adjust to actual physical changes to a product, a store or the market. And while new CEO's, new logos, and catchy ad campaigns may help in turn a quarterly profit, it won't fix the fact that the Gap is fundamentally broken.
How did it break? By lacking a strong focus. The Gap has a long strayed from its origin of designing and selling a youthful look anchored by the dress down staples of tee shirts and jeans. It's became a baby brand, a kids brand, a lingerie (body) brand. Consequently, the Gap has been repositioned our the minds. It lost the youthful appeal that it once had when the Gap truly stood for the generation gap.
Competition like American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch have certainly played a role. Myself, at only 25 years old, already feels uncomfortable stepping foot in those stores. Which is exactly how they want it.
Further contributing to its repositioning has been its own creation of new brands in our minds. It's not the older sophisticated style one finds at Banana Republic nor is it the youthful basic style of Old Navy. It's the average of the two. For marketers, there is nothing worse.
Of course, the only cure for average, is to have a focus.