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Brave new 2.0 world out there. Iconic brands are finding it is dangerous to play with familiar icons. Last year, GAP got hammered in social media for rolling out a new logo. In recent days, Coca-Cola, perhaps the most revered brand of all, especially at holiday time, has taken it on the chin for changing its familiar red can to polar bear white (and silver).

You can see Coke’s noble intent here with a temporary can redesign meant to promote giving to the World Wildlife Federation tied to its long-running polar bear commercials. However, the road to hell is paved with similar do-gooder, feel-good efforts. Aside from creating brand confusion at the point-of-sale between Coke and Diet Coke cans, the more worrisome concern was over those for whom the ingestion of sugar is a health issue, namely diabetics. Hard to believe that a company like Coca-Cola hadn’t considered some of these issues.

Not long before this story broke, I was in the soda aisle stocking up for the arrival of Thanksgiving company and it occurred to me how confusing buying Coke has become — there’s caffeine-free regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, and there’s the familiar Coke of the past century, with caffeine, and in a red can, but not on the shelf when I was looking, which caused me to pause, but not be refreshed. Perhaps it was already sitting there in the white/silver can and I like many others just missed it.

From a pure package design standpoint, with the exception of all-important color, Coca-Cola did a nice job of carrying over brand identity; however, with so much identity tied up in red, that misstep is not a minor one. To me, it is actually a surprising one. You don’t get to world’s most familiar/popular brand by making many errors in judgment. Beyond the New Coke rollout fiasco, I had to wrack my brain to think of another significant stumble.

The only instance that stays with me is an account in David Meerman Scott’s excellent “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” about the company’s reticence to participate online and offline when the Mentos dissolved in Diet Coke, creating Old Faithful backyard science experiments. Mentos embraced the goofy nature of it all, while Coca-Cola got all stodgy corporate because they could not control the consumer fun. If the same thing happened today, I am guessing it would be front and center on the company’s Facebook page (where by the way, the Coca-Cola arctic home message is still up and front and center — well, at least the WWF donations effort did not suffer the same fate as the white/silver cans).

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

Coca-Cola's white can redesign went south, but WWF/arctic home donations are hopefully still heading north.

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Everyone’s an art director. That’s a lesson Gap Inc. just learned the social media way in rolling out a new corporate logo via its Facebook page. If Gap was expecting everyone to just click the Like button, they received a rude surprise.
If you’re just catching up with the story, here is the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on it, already updated since the initial posting. Gap proudly introduced a new logo, then quickly rescinded it, following an avalanche of negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Lots to talk about here. Our agency has branding and corporate identity conversations all the time with clients. Introducing a new or updated logo is always a dicey proposition. First, it is very expensive to replace all those stationery items, signs, packaging, product labels, vehicle wraps, sales literature, trade show exhibits, coffee mugs, videos, web content, Powerpoints, not to mention emotional attachments that customers and employees have with the old logo. Typically, it is not a minor undertaking for an established brand. We tend to not recommend such changes unless there is an acquisition or merger that dictates it, a problem in the marketplace that is hurting the brand, or another really compelling reason to reinvent the brand.
From the outside, none of those reasons seem to apply to Gap’s new logo. However, all of us are on the outside and not privy to what led to management’s decision to explore a new look and to the discussions that took place between Gap and its professional design agency. The key word here is professional, because once the new logo entered the realm of social media, everybody and his brother weighed in. Some of those having fun were other graphic designers, some were upset customers, but most of those stomping on the new mark were casual observers at the scene of the accident. The new logo is not ugly, but the reaction to it sure was.
I can empathize with the new Gap logo team, because we once explored a range of new product faceplate designs for a client, two were chosen, then those two were set up in the company’s lunchroom to be voted on by everyone from the President to the cafeteria staff. Good creative is not a democratic process. Design by committee usually ends in a Dilbert cartoon. Yikes!
What this really smacks of is a repeat of the New Coke introduction. Consumer reaction was swift and terrible. Old Coke made an instant reappearance. New Coke was poured down the drain. Is the new Gap logo an improvement over the old? That’s an entirely subjective question especially when most people see no good reason to change the old. Sometimes well-crafted market research points the way before change is undertaken so painful mistakes can be averted before they reach the marketplace.
If there is anything that customers want to change at nearly every retailer, it isn’t the logo. I suspect it is the customer service experience and finding ways to dramatically improve it.

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