Gap’s Fall into the Mushy Middle

October 12, 2010


             They used to sing “Fall into the Gap.” And consumers did. Since the Woodstock era, the Gap has outfitted millions of consumers with its lines of basic clothing.

            But over the past few years, it is the Gap brand that is doing the “falling.”

            The latest fiasco is Gap’s logo redesign.

            Changing a brand that is 50 years old and as well-known as the Gap is not well advised. If you do make a change, it had better be subtle and definitely not drastic.

            Look at what happened when Tropicana went for a drastic make-over? Another disaster. The backlash was so intense that it eventually led them to bring back the previous package design. The message, don’t mess with my orange.

            The internet is burning up with criticism surrounding the new Gap logo. It has pretty much been universally panned. And rightfully so.

            The biggest mistake with the redesign is that Gap thought it had equity in the blue square. Nothing could be further from the truth. The word GAP reversed on blue was the focus. The original design was problematic not because it wasn't cool, it was problematic because it was too hard to read. Never neglect legibility in a design.

            If I was helping the Gap, I would recommend updating its logo so that it was more legible. Perhaps like this?

My gap logo
            This change uses the new typeface which makes it much more legible, but it doesn't change the overall look of the words reversed on blue. A change like this would likely have been far less controversial. The only problem is that the logo looks awfully close to Old Navy's logo. This is a real issue of brand conflict that goes way beyond logos.

            But the quality of the design is irrelevant. Because even if the new design was beautiful, it would still generate outrage. Changing an icon, freaks people out.

            All the criticism didn’t go unnoticed at the Gap. Marka Hanson, President of Gap North America, started back peddling right away and issued this statement after the debuted and backlash trying to explain why they made the change and why they may not implement it.

                “The natural step for us on this journey is to see how our logo – one that we've had for more than 20 years – should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that.

                We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today.

                We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.

                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.

                From this online dialogue, it's clear that Gap still has a close connection to our customers, so tapping into this energy is right. We've posted a message on the Gap Facebook Page that says we plan to ask people to share their designs with us as well. We welcome the participation we've seen so far.

                We'll explain specifics on how everyone can share designs in a few days.”

            Well, we got the specifics today. Gap is scraping the new logo, scraping the idea of letting consumers participate in creating a new logo and going back to the old logo. Good for them. At least they admitted they were wrong and did the right thing to correct it.

            Unfortunately, the Gap still has a huge problem. The problem has nothing do with the logo or with being a more contemporary brand. Gap isn’t as much out of style as it is out of place in the market.

            What is the Gap?

            It used to be the place for everyday basics. Neat, affordable and classic.

            “Affordable Basics” built the Gap into a multi-billion-dollar brand and the biggest specialty apparel retailer in the U.S.

            Two things have undermined the Gap brand in the mind of consumers.


Gap extensions

1. Expansion

            When management sees the great success of its brand, the next thing they usually say is, “What else can we get into with our hot brand?” The answer is usually trouble.

            Gap expanded into four varieties: GapBody, GapKids, GapBaby and regular Gap.

            Teenagers and 20-somethings don’t want to wear the same outfits as kids and babies. All the expansion diluted the power of the Gap brand. And it diluted the time and energy of management. Instead of thinking about how to make the Gap better. They were focused on building the line-extension stores like GapKids, GapBaby and GapBody.

            We have seen this type of extension disasters before.

            After the success of Blockbuster, management expanded and introduced Blockbuster Music stores. They should have stayed focused on movies. Today Blockbuster is bankrupted and trapped in the mushy middle between Netflix and Red Box.

            Toys R Us became the number one toy retailer in the U.S., then management expanded the brand into Kids R Us and Babies R Us. The line-extension distractions let Walmart and Target takeover the toy leadership position.



2. Old Navy

            Nothing hurt the Gap brand as much as the introduction of Old Navy in 1994.

            Sixteen years later the thriving Old Navy chain accounts for 41% of the company’s revenues. The Gap accounts for 40%. Banana Republic 17%.

            Old Navy is a no-frills, low-price clothing chain. A great concept, but the company already had a no-frills, low-price clothing chain called the Gap.

            To make room for Old Navy, the Gap brand had to move more upscale. That moved the Gap right into the mushy middle of the market. The mushy middle is not the place to be and the Gap has had problems ever since.


            Take this as a warning. Don’t let your brand fall into the mushy middle Gap.