The Gap Logo Debacle: There Are Lessons Here – Especially for HR

The new, and now discarded, Gap logo.
The new, and now discarded, Gap logo.

I looked on in amusement this past week when the Gap released their new logo to anticipated fanfare.

All of their design team knew they had a winner. Gap corporate knew they had a winner. The outside design consultant knew they had a winner. Everyone thought that, otherwise they would not have released it.

But that’s not how it played out. According to Advertising Age:

Just four days after confirming its surprise new logo was, in fact, legit, Gap (said it) is returning to its old design (see below) Marka Hansen, Gap North America president, informed the company’s marketing department…of the change, acknowledging that the switch was a mistake and that the company would be tabling any changes for the foreseeable future.”

The old (and now current) Gap logo.
The old (and now current) Gap logo.

Why didn’t the Gap test drive their new logo?

So was the Gap’s logo really a result of a clueless organization, or was it a clever publicity stunt? Yes, I read online that this was a brilliant marketing move. I think not. I do not feel that any company wants that type of attention. Just being momentarily known as not connecting to your customer is to much of a gamble in this competitive environment?

When the outcry became deafening, they retreated back to the conference room. I thought of a post that I wrote a while back called “What HR can learn from General Motors. Talent Management Systems: HR Needs to Test Drive the Product.”  This post was based on a news article in the Detroit News that said that GM engineers now drive the cars that they are working on. After this trial period, they would each fill out an assessment to be followed by a debrief on the car.

While this did not seem like rocket science, it was the first time that they has used this methodology. Through all the years of GM designing cars, this never has been a part of the process. Well, we see how that strategy took them to the brink.

This Gap misstep was based on the same faulty assumptions — Design it in the conference room, design it in committee, play it close to the vest, etc.

We’re in the age of collaboration

I want to share a little secret: Those days are over. Whether it is HR initiatives or marketing strategies, it does not matter. There has to be more collaboration, especially with social media, or otherwise you may end up like the GAP.

Social media, particularly Twitter & Facebook went wild on this release. It was the No. 1 trending topic for a few days. Gap was slammed beyond belief, and to be viewed as that inept could not have been part of the plan. There were numerous articles written about this logo but the best one that I read was “Smart Design: 3 Reasons Why Gap’s Logo Flopped.” This article was from the design community and they summed it up in 3 reasons based around the most important overlooked segment: The consumer.

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My expertise is in HR, so I will tackle this topic from that angle.

You can’t design any people-related issue today without soliciting some support from the intended target. Bring them into the fold early. Keep them in the loop, communicate, solicit feedback, preview, solicit more feedback, preview again, etc. There is no other way, especially with this ongoing deficit in people engagement

New people initiatives need input — from your people

So many times we, as HR professionals, design people initiatives like GM did cars and the Gap did their logo. We design it in a conference room with no outside input. And no, the outside consultant does not count. When we eventually roll it out, it hits like dead weight

Let’s imagine if Gap would have brought their customers into the process. This could have been a tremendous campaign via social media. The amount of exposure that could have been reaped is something you can’t afford to purchase. Their customers would have been engaged, their employees would have been engaged, and there would have been drinks all around. Not only that, but brand loyalty at the Gap would have gone through the roof.

Take a look at what you have on the drawing board, especially since we are into the 4th Quarter and 2011 could be target dates for your roll-outs. Do you have everyone involved, especially the most important component you need to have involved in any people initiatives?

Yes, you need to have that most important asset involved that we have all talked about for years and years. You know who it is: the almighty employee. Get them involved so you and your organization can avoid what happened to the Gap.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.