Mind the Crowd / by Dan Weingrod

Gap’s experience shows that we still need to learn the art of conversing with the crowd.

If you have been following brand marketing news lately you’ve probably seen the story about the Gap logo. If you haven’t here’s a quick recap: On October 4th Gap announced that after a long design process they were releasing a new version of their logo. On October 11thGap announced that they were reverting back  to their old logo.

What happened in the interim was the Crowd. The new logo, which was to be followed by a new marketing campaign, was part of an effort to reverse the downward trend of the brand by taking it from “classic, American design… to modern, sexy, cool”.  But almost immediately following its stealth release on the Gap Web site, the negative comments began to filter in on  Facebook page and Twitter. Comments ranged from the biting ‘Something a high school student created in MS in 1999’ to the blunt  'an utter failure'. Pretty soon a new meme arose within adworld tweeters of converting their avatar to conform with the new logo.

Registering the outrage Gap first did a, “New Coke” style, about face and asked the crowd to submit their own suggestions for the new logo. But in the end they decided to beat a tactical retreat and return back to the familiar logo. So what does this mean for Brands and brand marketers? Are brands now hostages of whatever happens to be said in online forums? And since when have the masses become creative directors?

Gap’s misestimation was their lack of understanding of how brands are perceived in the new world of social media. You can argue that it backed down in a cowardly fashion or that it should have crowdsourced  its new logo first. In either case the fundamental issue is that people feel a passionate level of ownership about brands in the social world. Brands are part of our life and culture and we feel we can have a conversation with them because…we can.

What happened to the Gap is that the rules of this conversation have not been fully codified and it got caught, embarrassed, unsure of what to say and how to say it.  A similar situation occurred to Nestle earlier this year when they tried to “police” their brand usage by fans. The answer is not that you have to crowdsource everything or bow to every passing tweet. Its that you have to take into account the fact that the Crowd will react and learn how to turn the conversation to your benefit. We’re all still learning.