It is bad. Just look at it. A new, trendier “Gap” (notice the lower case) with this blue square thing up in one corner. What is it supposed to represent? That Gap is now more hip? That they’ve entered the “digital age” – is that a pixel up in the right corner? One has to ask, “what were they thinking?!?”

Actually, that’s a very good question. Companies change logos all the time, while others choose to remain icons of industry (IBM, GM). The latter group may add a little “shine” to their logo, as in the case with GM, but fundamentally they have the same look and feel.

There’s nothing wrong with changing your logo. I lived through three iterations of logo changes at EDS, each becoming more “in tune” with the time, with the last trying to represent a combination of “globalization”, the “e” in e-commerce, and the “dot” in dot-com. A noble idea that most people didn’t get.

We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward. Marka Hansen, Gap North America president

This post is not really about Gap’s bad logo. It’s about groundswell and crowd-sourcing, and how they impacted Gap’s attempt to re-brand itself, or maybe were part of their strategy in the first place. Let’s look at the two scenarios.

Scenario 1 – It was just a screw-up…

Gap simply wants to change its logo. They hire an agency (Laird & Partners out of New York) who comes up with a design. They roll it out and guess what, everybody hates it, ala “Tropicana style”. It’s so bad that it becomes the butt of bad jokes (which in and of itself creates another groundswell). Being good citizens in the digital age they listen to the groundswell that was created and realize they made a mistake. People love the old Gap logo. They feel comfortable with it, like that favorite pair of jeans they bought at the Gap. So Gap admits its mistake and retreats, reinstating their old logo and everybody is happy (well, maybe a few people liked the new logo…). All is good in Gap land.

This scenario is a good example of the power of groundswell and listening to your community. What Gap could have done better was to “prep” its community for change. We have way too many examples of how springing something new (e.g., Facebook, Digg) on your community can have negative effects. Especially when the change occurs almost instantaneously around the globe, and the ripple effect occurs even faster. Live and learn.

Scenario 2 – Conspiracy theory…

Gap has no intentions of keeping the new logo. They just want the publicity. Why? As the old saying goes, “any publicity is good publicity”. When the dust settles most people (with the exception of people like me who write about this stuff) will forget about it and life will go on. But for an instant Gap is in the spotlight. People (including me) will flock to their site to see if the new logo is still there (did that at the time of this writing). There is a buzz around the Gap brand. Sure, Marka Hansen will have to eat a little crow for a couple of weeks, but a few antacids will take care of that.

Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we’ve decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.

Timing could also be another part of the strategy. The holiday shopping season is just around the corner and with the economy still in low gear (or maybe even idling…), it never hurts to have your brand at “top of mind”. Granted, this may be a little far-fetched, but one has to consider it as a possibility.

Finally, and this one may be even more far-fetched, is that Gap simply wanted to use crowd-sourcing as way to create a logo that “the people owned”. There are two ways to approach this. Issue a call for designs beforehand and then choose one that enhances the Gap look and feel. More “contemporary and current” as Ms Hansen put it. This method works reasonably well, but requires sufficient incentive to attract top notch talent. Otherwise you just end up with a bunch of wannabe graphics artists (me, for example) who hope to get lucky (doubtful…).

Or, as is the case now, wait until the groundswell is created and then let the hue and cry take over – in effect issuing a challenge to the design community to “come up with a better idea”. This latter method is a little tricky, as Gap is learning. There is a backlash (negative groundswell) building that Gap is simply being cheap since they aren’t offering any remuneration for new designs. But this hasn’t stopped the design community from taking the challenge – as of this writing there were well over 100 new designs offered on 99 Designs. Again, you end up with a lot of riff-raff in the mix, but what has Gap got to lose at this point? They might just end up with a pretty good logo. But it’s doubtful that they will make another change anytime soon – at least IMHO…

SummaLogic’s take…

In either of these scenarios, Gap has a lot to gain and potentially a lot to lose. Whether you choose to believe either of the scenarios offered above is a matter of personal and professional choice. But what you can’t argue with is the power of community-based groundswell and its potential to shape (and reshape) your brand. We write a lot about brand management and protection here at SummaLogic. It should be at top of your priority list. Many times we have advocated the appointment of a business, technical and social networking/social media savvy “Chief Outreach Officer” who can shape and manage your company’s strategy in the digital age. If you’re not taking steps to protect yourself in this area then you might end up like Gap, Tropicana, Dominos… How important is your brand?