Gap's new brand identity
If the strategic objective was to genericise, 'stable-ise' (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic etc.) and intentionally pedestrianise the Gap brand then the new identity should be considered a success.
Perhaps in much the same way as other brands have attempted to go the 'no logo' route or chosen to genericise other branding elements such as the 'Verdanafication' of Audi and Ikea, this brand transformation is a likely response to cost versus likely return as well as, sadly, in anticipation of the relentless criticisms of a mass digital and design-literate audience. Or, as in the case of Simon Manchipp and Co. at SomeOne, to avoid a typical response to traditional branding that ridicules anything that resembles a proprietary logo, but without any attempt to create a distinctive brand-world as Mr Manchipp would aptly advise. If so, understandable to a point, but I'd say that Gap should then probably have committed to a 'no logo' route whole-heartedly and developed a clearly identifiable brand-world. As Armin intimates, to achieve this, Gap would've done better to leave the square out entirely. This option, if considered at all, is likely to have been seen to be at odds with the legacy of the brand. To some degree the square represents Gap and offers a hint of personality but it now seems apparent that Gap have not owned the square sufficiently to justify hanging onto it in any way.
From the perspective of identifying valid criticisms of the new Gap identity, it seems appropriate to point out that because brands are now accountable to a vast digital and design-literate audience it should not be assumed that digital and design-literacy is the same as brand-literacy. Designers should not assume to be qualified to exorcise brands unless they're in possession of strategic insights. Design in service of brand is far more specialised than most designers appear aware (as most comments on Brand New and other similar blogs attest). On the surface, it seems also that the agency responsible for this brand transformation has been severely hamstrung by a prescriptive and difficult client, or that they are incapable of thinking clearly on a strategic level.
As the new identity has been launched without rationale or fanfare we should assume that Gap do not intend to 'big itself up' or endear itself to its customers with a personable identity. Instead, it appears that, as with most of Gap's apparel, the brand is intended to meld into the background as a commodity. There are obviously no big creative ideas in the new identity. Gap don't appear to think any big creative ideas are necessary for them to succeed. However, the lack of a big creative idea doesn't mean the brand is not thinking big, but it's likely that they are thinking on a scale that's too big to satisfy the expectations of brand-savvy audiences. The Gap brand has been over-simplified and it is now more obviously conceptually flat. At least with the previous identity there was a suggestion of stature and style, albeit a rapidly dating aesthetic.
I expect that a commodity-based strategy can work for Gap. At a glance the business appears robust. Gap don't necessarily expect you to buy their clothes so that you can be fashionable but they do offer you the opportunity to clothe yourself reasonably well at a relatively low cost. The Gap brand has a fairly secure place in a commodity market, no matter what the brandmark looks like. The new identity points to a potential realisation that you don't necessarily need to stand out visibly from a crowd to succeed. The danger, however, is that Gap runs the risk of becoming indistinct and that it will fade from memory into Helvetica-ised, personality-less and mechanised obscurity. In which case, as so many designers are eager to point out, we may well be witnessing a branding disaster reaching a point of no return.
Ironically, Gap ('The Gap', originally) suggests a niche ie. a gap in the market, but by going so big and impersonal, overtly 'stabled' and generic it's now more obvious that such a 'Gap-sized' niche no longer exists. Unless there are a few suprises in store, it seems likely that Gap will try to hang on with its stable-mates until it finally voids itself entirely.
If this is a crowdsourcing stunt then Gap is demonstrating a gross misunderstanding of not only brand strategy but also the value of design.
You might be able to crowdsource a logo. A logo you will get but the logo you get won't mean much if it's not handled as one of many orchestrated brand-marks. You get style variations and that's about it. You might also manage to engage a large group of designers and get some publicity, but it's the wrong type of engagement and the wrong type of publicity. This kind of branding process will only serve to demonstrate the limits of what design can do for brands as well as upset a whole lot of designers along the way, particularly designers who believe that everything in the world is subject to design.
A logo design can only do so much. If a redesign process is not led by an insightful brand strategy then the energy spent is mostly wasted. The point of a brand redesign is to signal a brand transformation. Brand transformation runs deep (ie. throughout the whole organisation at every level of employee and customer experience) and serves to highlight a new direction or a new experience based on key insights, insights that are clearly of benefit to customers. Without these insights redesigns are a waste of effort for everyone involved.
It seems to me that Gap and their consultants are way out of their depth. This whole debacle is likely to ruin the Gap brand.
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