Category Archives: branding

Using Social To Reboot A Gap In Mindshare

It's gonna be a lovely day...

The past couple weeks have seen two major organizations revamp their identities with new logos: MySpace, the waning social network and Gap, the financially distressed clothing retailer. Both companies are desperately struggling to stay afloat among the fickle and increasingly fragmented consumer audience they covet.

I actually don’t mind the new MySpace logo. It’s a bold departure from the simplistic iconography they’ve used in past. In the case of the new Gap logo, well, someone once said there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Love it or loathe it seems like a strange half-baked visual concoction. The huge public outpouring by Gap’s loyal customers, impassioned design advocates, and marketing types echo the sentiments “why’d they do that?” The number of people coming out of the woodwork feeling compelled to voice their opinion on this story has been nothing short of overwhelming. I won’t regurgitate all the details here but I will say, from what I’ve read, the overall consensus is that the new Gap logo is a complete failure.

But is it really?

I believe the Gap logo debacle is not a mistake, but a resounding success. Coverage by Fast Company, Forbes, CNN, @GapLogo on Twitter and countless other sources reflect a cleverly—perhaps inadvertently—concocted PR strategy. The broad media coverage, which has now extended into the social space, has created a renewed sense of brand awareness at a time the Gap is clearly faced with the challenge of reigniting slumping sales.

If this was a PR/marketing stunt, it’s actually quite brilliant.

Create an ugly logo on purpose that gets consumers in a tiff; tell everyone crowdsourcing the logo redesign with an open contest is the answer; capitalize on the social media coverage by telling consumers “ok, we’ve listened to you, yeah we were wrong to change it; we’ve actually decided to revert back to the original logo design”.

Sounds absurd right?

People are talking, tweeting, blogging, sharing and creating mash-ups of the new Gap logo everywhere—though mostly in protest. Some of these mock-ups have gone viral. Social media has fueled the growing buzz and if nothing else seems to be boosting brand awareness in a strange way.

Somewhere a senior Gap marketing exec or creative is laughing, maybe singing Bill Wither’s Lovely Day (they used this song in a Gap AD campaign back in 1999), thinking yeah, let the mob ramble on and on in cyberspace about how much they hate the typographic treatment or the much debated misuse of blue box element (part of Gap’s old logo). These matters are ultimately trivial when you consider Mashable and a host of other high traffic sites are covering the story to the tune of several hundred Diggs and several thousand Facebook ‘likes’. Ultimately this is free publicity in the digital space —and who’s really having the last laugh?

The reality is you, the social media centric digerati horde, and people like James Yu and his now viral makeyourowngaplogo dot com, and now ironically bloggers like me with posts like this, are playing right into the hands of Gap’s senior marketing executives. The truth, unbeknownst to the sharing public, is that the Gap have played the digital space to their advantage, whether intentionally orchestrated or not.

Let’s see what happens.

What Is A Brand?


I’m certain most people would agree a brand is much more than just a logo, name or tag line -but rather a complex interplay of these elements and more. I can think of many interesting levels surrounding the brand strategy sphere: loyalty, equity, engagement, orientation, implementation. Many of these components help us understand a brand’s identity and ultimately become essential in orchestrating meaningful customer experiences and interactions.
But there’s a silly side to branding I’d like to briefly explore, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, in terms of defining the essence of a brand, let’s consider the numerous interpretations and perspectives on the subject out there. Here are a few of the more popular definitions of brand I’ve dug up to refresh our memories:

A brand is:

• a promise .1
• what people think of you. 2
• the unique expression of a deep belief system. 3
• differentiation.
• the sum of all the associations, feelings, attitudes and perceptions that people have related to the tangible and intangible characteristics of a company, product or service. 4

I think these are all really good and I could probably go on filling this page with 20 or 30 more bullet point definitions of brand -but I won’t. If anything these points illustrate the relative subjectivity in trying to quantify precisely what a brand represents and how we can leverage brand concepts to drive things like product awareness, credibility, and trust -things every company/product want.

But is a brand something we can simply distill down to universally accepted (limited) set of attributes? -or is it something less tangible, driven by emotion and open to interpretation?

I wonder if the very idea of “brands” has become somewhat stale in recent years. You can find countless  discussions online by [branding] strategists and experts proclaiming “a brand is this…” or “a brand is that…”. But what exactly are we debating? Are brands even relevant anymore in the age of digital transparency and social media?
Regardless of how you feel, brands can mean different things to different people, so rather than write yet another blog post authoritatively analyzing the theoretical nuances of branding, I thought it might be more interesting (and fun) to explore one of the more ineffective, mediocre and, shall we say, idiotic trends in corporate branding.

Case in point, the monotonous and bizarre over-usage of “Ameri” as a prefix to a company name.

America: land of the free, home of the brave; America: land of opportunity; America: the beautiful, the great, the strong, the bold; made in America; proudly American. Well, I suppose all these phrases vividly encapsulate how companies adopting the Ameri-prefix envision themselves and how they would want to seen by others. But this angle to branding is really quite tasteless in my opinion -most people see through this flaky nonsense.
Patriotic inspiration can be a great touchstone for enhancing corporate mission, vision and values, but in this context it seems exploitative, unoriginal and downright fabricated to the point of undermining perceived trustworthiness.

I don’t consider myself a branding expert, but if you feel as I do that branding (certainly company naming) is about fostering differentiation, telling a unique story, building trust and awareness among consumers, then clearly the CMOs of these companies listed above need their heads examined. There’s nothing creative or memorable about repurposing your country name into a corporate identity. What are these companies promising? How are they expressing something unique? Perhaps this is just lowest-common-denominator design thinking at its best.

If you find any good Ameribrand examples I’ve missed, please send them to me.

1 Your logo Is Not Your Brand
2 Brand: It Ain’t the Logo
3 Brand Identity Is More Than Image – The Case for Product Informed by Brand Truth
4 Brand – Defined

A More Socially Minded Best Buy?

Best Buy Logo Redesign

Best Buy recently began to reevaluate their corporate brand identity with, among other points of marketing collateral, a refreshed logoform.
Part of a larger marketing strategy as reported by RetailNet Group, the proposed although not finalized new corporate logo (left) is an interesting departure from the company’s existing ‘price tag’ version (right) which has been in use since 1987. Using a modified Klavika font setting, the lower case sans-serif font is a stark contrast to the all upper-case typeface previously used. The horizontal typographic setting visually feels more contemporary and less edgy while the drastic reduction in yellow conveys a softer, more open tone.  A smaller and simplified price tag element (notice the modified shape) de-emphasizes the notion that low prices are the company’s number one core value offering.

Brand Strategy:
People (not the stuff) make the difference
Consumer behaviour is moving online and people now have the power to influence and shape brands. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Craigslist epitomize a societal shift towards peer to peer production in which people use technologies (e.g. Linux and BitTorrent) to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations. Loosely, this trend is known as the groundswell effect, encompassing 3 distinct forces: people, technology, and economics (Read: Groundswell by Forrester Research).
Best Buy, clearly aware of this phenomenon is considering a new tag line: “you. happier” which speaks to a new positioning strategy that effectively differentiates their expertise, service (e.g. Geek Squad), and shopping experience from competitors.
In reading through some of the recent discussions online, it has been suggested by some that Best Buy intend to, among other things, position their brand more upscale with less emphasis on price competition. While this and other points may appear to be unsubstantiated conjecture, the truth (if you really want to know) on what the company is thinking with regard to its marketing efforts can be read on the Chief Marketing Officer’s blog.

A More Socially Minded Logo?
So, is this the beginning of a more socially minded Best Buy or just a synthetic composite of the Web’s most prolific social network?

Personally, I think what Best Buy is trying to say with their proposed new identity is that they want to be seen as more open and personable. Perhaps they acknowledge the era of the cold and austere big-box retail environment is coming to an end.
Accessibility -by this I mean purchasing technology-based products shouldn’t be a daunting experience, and social mindedness reflect the new consumer mindset; personalized, focused service -not just low prices, are what consumers really desire.