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Just as BP’s disastrous handling of the worst oil spill in US history earlier this year is already a public-relations case study in how not to manage a crisis, so too clothing retailer Gap Inc is likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons after its rebranding efforts this week.

The San Francisco-based retailer has been forced into a U-turn after discreetly rolling out a new logo online just over a week ago.

The image had been due to appear in advertising campaigns and some stores starting next month as part of plans to modernise its flagship Gap brand in step with a makeover of its clothing lines. But so huge was the backlash from consumers that the company has now decided to abandon its new look.

Gap acknowledged an “outpouring” of comments from users of social media in general and Facebook in particular criticising the new logo – black lettering on a white background in a blue-framed box – and is returning to its traditional “blue box” branding.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “you’ve completely destroyed what it took 20+ years to build,” and “the original Gap logo is classic and iconic,” were just some of the comments posted online.

“All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on any further,” admitted Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America.

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Putting it more bluntly, perhaps, a note from the company on Gap’s Facebook page said: “OK. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo.”

The retailer’s surprisingly rapid response to internet criticism is also a reflection of just how fast a brand’s reputation can come under attack in a digital era that has seen an explosion of social networking and an ever-expanding blogosphere.

And while a more savvy approach would have been to engage with the online community by requesting its ideas, thoughts and opinions on the new logo – a process known as ‘crowd sourcing’ – again Gap missed the opportunity. This would at least have given consumers some sense of ownership in the change, but “we did not go about this in the right way,” Hansen confessed.

Neverthless, she’s putting a brave face and a positive spin on the debacle. “Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that.”

Conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theorists have suggested the furore over the new logo is all part of a carefully planned ploy to generate publicity for Gap – as well as bring everyone to the conclusion that the brand and its original logo are a much-loved classic.

For its part, though, Gap claims it had simply hoped the switch to a more contemporary logo after 20 years would reflect changes at its clothing lines and stores.

The retailer, which also owns the Banana Republic and Old Navy chains, is increasingly focusing on shoppers in their 20s and early 30s, with new ranges such as the revamped 1969 denim jeans and ‘perfect’ black trousers.

However, chief executive officer Glenn Murphy admitted in August that he continues to be frustrated by Gap’s seven-year history of fluctuating fortunes.

In the second quarter, higher sales at Old Navy and Banana Republic helped lift profit by 3% to $234m, while sales rose 2% to $3.32bn. Same-store sales across the company as a whole increased 1%, but fell 4% at Gap.

There’s no doubt people are often resistant to change, but it may well be that Gap felt it didn’t have time on its side to wait and see if consumers would warm to the new logo.

After all, in a similar case last year, PepsiCo waited four weeks before taking the decision to abandon a redesign of its Tropicana fruit juice brand. By then, supermarket sales of its juices had started to fall. Gap can ill-afford the same fate.

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