In an even more confusing strategic decision, Gap didn't tie its new logo in with a company-wide rebrand across its various media. Normally a move like this from such a large business would warrant a multimedia advertising campaign, introducing the logo and familiarising the audience with it. Yet the new Gap logo simply appeared, quietly, on the Gap website early last week.
Not so subtly, however, that it didn't provoke tsunamis of disdain throughout the marketing world. Choice comments included: "It make Old Navy look like a luxury brand"; "It looks like it cost $17"; "I'll be surprised if a few people won't lose their jobs as this is basic branding 101." Feedback was so damning, in fact, that Gap has now reverted back to the old logo, after mere days.
Its sudden implementation of the logo might well be explained by the 4% year-on-year sales drop it was experiencing - but such jerky reactiveness is ill-informed. We spoke to Claire Nuttall, insight and innovation director at branding agency 1HQ, to find out where it all went wrong. "The logo just felt as if it had moved too far away from anything Gap resembled," she says. "Gap's previous campaigns have been very engaging, but the new logo seemed to lack any personality or connection. It was empty and sterile from a brand that historically had far greater meaning associated with it. It just didn't feel 'Gap'."
Nuttall emphasises the importance of continuity on look and feel for a brand with so much heritage. "Gap didn't include any of what it developed over time - everything that creates brand belief and commitment." Usually a brand develops slowly over time, with messages gradually layering up. "But this looked standalone and didn't connect with Gap in any way. It felt generic."
The more cynical citizens of the blogosphere have suggested the entire debacle was one big viral ploy, designed to drum up loyalty for the traditional Gap image and act as a quick publicity defibrillator, but Nuttall thinks that would be a strategy too dangerous for a brand Gap's size. "And it would have been very shortsighted."
So what hope for Gap now? Well, the speedy expedience from Gap in releasing an apologetic press release let the business reclaw some ground, albeit in a somewhat self-congratulatory way. "Ultimately, we've learned just how much energy there is around our brand," the release reads. "At Gap brand, our customers have always come first." And so, it promises, it will bring back its 'iconic blue box' across all channels.
A conciliatory humbleness at the end could signal a more positive next step in the rebrand though. "We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community," Gap said. "There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we'll handle it in a different way."
Rana Khodadoust, strategist at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, has some suggestions for Gap. "Crowd-sourcing new ideas in the wake of such heavy criticism could be their saving grace." Khodadoust thinks there could be good scope to use what's happened in a more innovative way.
"It would be great to see this project go beyond image and start to act as a platform for participation, from create your own iconic t-shirts through to suggestions for future collaborations. Gap has a heritage in doing so with designers like Valentino and ranges like [RED] so there is something to build on and take further."
Nuttall agrees: "I think an opportunity would be for them to say, 'Come on guys, help us create the brand'. It's what they should be doing and it's the Gap way - working with and engaging communities." She says online isn't the only path here - consumer groups are equally valuable.
If Gap does re-engage with its obviously passionate community in the right way, this could even be the start of something special - if, that is, the business learns the lessons that seem so glaringly obvious to the rest of us.