Turn a PR Crisis into Positive Online Buzz: Lessons from The Gap

futurelab default header

Guest Post by: Monica (Market Sentinel)

How the Gap logo debacle turned a PR crisis into positive brand awareness for Gap’s “iconic blue logo”.

The marketing mavens over at Gap must be in a frenzy this week.

First they released a new “contemporary and current” design for the Gap logo on the company website. Almost instantly, consumers gasped with disgust, and within days, their rage reached a full-blown boil, exploding into a rain of scathing comments on Facebook and Twitter.

In light of this mounting PR crisis, Gap sensibly scrapped the logo, but not-so-sensibly appealed for design ideas on their Facebook page.

The design community interpreted this “crowd sourcing” hijink as: “work for us for free.”


Across the web, designers fumed, consumers seethed, and impostors had a field day. Twitter accounts emerged, such as @gaplogo, @oldgaplogo and @newgaplogo. The website Make Your Own Gap Logo was born, inviting people to create spoof logos, the most popular being “Crap” (the website has received 1,408 Facebook likes and counting).

Yesterday, just a week after the new logo was released, Gap announced that they were pulling the logo completely and going back to the original “iconic blue box” design.

Thus, a brand was not only saved, it was reborn – without changing anything at all.

When a crisis isn’t a crisis

Here at Market Sentinel we’ve been looking into Gap’s PR crisis. In particular, we’ve been studying the action on Gap’s Facebook page, where most of the conversation around the new logo has been happening.

One of the things that struck us is that even the logo’s loudest detractors managed to build positive buzz about the Gap brand. Comments include:

The old logo is identifiable as the Gap brand…it is an icon. Why would you re-brand now when millions of people are familiar with it?

How does a thick, squatty font say “modern, contemporary, elegant, stylish, chic, and simple”? That is what Gap is, to me. Simple, but beautiful and elegant clothes.

Gap has one of the best logos out there! It is up there with Apple. Are you stupid or is this just a cheap marketing trick?

In fact, if you look at the top sentiment words found on Gap’s Facebook page, positive expressions dominate, with the most prominant word being classic.

We also observed that, despite the temporary dip in sentiment following the new logo’s release, Gap’s return to the original logo managed to raise sentiment on Gap’s Facebook page to levels much higher than that prior to the logo change.

In effect, Gap’s PR “crisis” was a sentiment booster for the brand. In fact, the most “liked” post on their Facebook page, with 2,005 likes so far, is their announcement to “bring back the blue box”:

Thank Gwad! We love the “Classic Gap” logo! Yay!

Keep the logo like the clothes: classic.

You have a good, beautiful, solid, classic logo that is coherent with your product – new isn’t always better.

The analysis also highlights the strength of the design community on this issue. This is perhaps most evident on Twitter, where the “loudest” tweeter on the topic was Mike Monteiro of Mule Design whose tweet was one of the most frequently shared posts on the topic:

@Mike_FTW: We gave The Gap shit for the new logo. Then we gave The Gap shit for pulling it. Congratulations. We are a collective psychotic girlfriend.

Mike also blogged a sarcastic letter to Gap in response to their crowd sourcing initiative. The post received 167 comments, many of which bemoan gap’s request that designers work for them for free.

Brilliant! Why are art-based professionals one of the few occupations out there that people have no problem asking for free work from?

You would think a company that sells fashion and design would understand the value in paying for design.

As of writing, Gap’s Facebook page has 734,085 likes, while its Twitter stream has 36,206 followers.

Next time you’re caught in a PR crisis

Gap’s “logo debacle” may not hold the same weight as, say, an oil spill or a salmonella outbreak, but it does offer some potent reminders that all brand managers should keep in mind next time a PR crisis hits the fan.

Listen to the conversation and pay attention to the contexts

Gap knew that the new logo would generate buzz, and they had their ear on the conversation as soon as the logo went live. But they didn’t limit their range to their customers – they listened to people speaking on all aspects of the topic. This was especially important when it came to contexts of conversation around design. Although the designers were not necessarily fans of their brand, their voices were strong in the overall conversation. Gap recognised that, and knew it had to appease the designers if they were going to overcome this PR crisis.

Identify the influencers

Who are your promoters and detractors? Find out who they are and engage with them as necessary – be personal if you have to, but don’t be pushy. Gap was perhaps wise to keep a good distance between them and their main detractors in the design community. But no doubt, they knew who they were and what their sore points were. By listening, they were able to address those sore points specifically, which no doubt aided the positive reception of their decision to scrap the new logo.

Take action and move swiftly

The procrastinator’s approach to dealing with crises – ignore it until it goes away – is no longer viable thanks to the internet. As the Gap logo illustrates, a story can spiral out of control within hours, and the sooner you respond, the better you’ll be able to manage it.

Participate in the debate

Press releases will get you no where – you need to get in on the debate WHERE it is happening. Gap primarily used its Facebook page, with more than 720,000 fans, to post updates and responses to criticism.

Admit your failures

It always pays to be honest, and the statement from Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand, speaks directly to the audience about the issues they care about the most:

“We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing.”

Gap’s motivations for changing the logo were well-founded: the brand is getting stale. They thought a new logo would shake things up. That it did, maybe not in the way Gap intended, but in a way that brought Gap – and its loyal customers – back in line with one of Gap’s most valuable qualities: it’s classic. No doubt Gap will be building on that in the future, hopefully with the voice of the consumers AND the designers well in mind.

Image source: thinkretail

Original Post: http://www.marketsentinel.com/blog/2010/10/turn-a-pr-crisis-into-positive-online-buzz-lessons-from-the-gap/