Flash Mobs

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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 Gap proudly introduced a new logo, then quickly rescinded it, following an avalanche of negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.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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While most of us in marketing are working hard to figure out how social media can be leveraged to help commerce, build brands, and add jobs, youth is still utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and other apps as a way to fight boredom and generate excitement through instant buzz events. There is some indication that the recent flash mob violence in Philadelphia began innocently enough with a couple aspiring artists trying to create a crowd for street dance performance. The problem is that crowds are tough to control and real people were hurt by real thugs. And real damage was done to real retail stores. And real challenges are now faced by the Philadelphia police and the City’s tourism team.

Enter this past weekend’s attempt to have some silly fun on an international scale — 150 cities, 150 public parks, 150 pillow fights with anyone who through Facebook, Twitter, etc. wanted to join the fray.

Here is a video of one of the larger gatherings from NYC’s Union Square:

And here is my own first-person take on the proceedings. Earlier in the day, my family had walked around Union Square. It was hard to walk through Union Square because there was an outdoor market filled with food and craft and art vendors. We opted to enjoy the glorious weather in Central Park instead. Returning late afternoon, we exited the Lexington Avenue subway stop just in time to see the crowd gathered in the park armed with big fluffy pillows. Not sure we heard a whistle, but we suddenly saw a sea of white, especially airborne feathers. It was a fascinating spectacle. Including watching a NY eccentric (he seemed to be too well dressed to be homeless) pull a discarded pillow from a nearby trash can and discard it again with a disgusted look.

And here was the wind-down/aftermath.

The aftermath of NYC's pillow fight

The aftermath of NYC's pillow fight

People were supposedly asked not to bring feather pillows, but a lot of pillow-fighters missed that public service message. One girl with very frizzy hair walked past looking like she had been buzz bombed inside a chicken coop. There were also a lot of young people having a genuinely good time. Plus, many amused bystanders. There was a hell of a mess for NY City’s streets department to clean up. And as I walked around Union Square, there were still outdoor market merchants breaking down their tables and wares, covered with a thin layer of feathers. No one said commerce in the new digital economy was going to be predictable or easy.

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