My first job in this industry, a little more than 10 years ago, was at the Gap. During my first week, I was asked to attend a meeting – apparently a regular ongoing affair – in the art gallery in the main Gap Inc. building in San Francisco where the CEO, Millard “Mickey” Drexler, was to speak to us. Mickey entered the gallery, went in front of where we were seated dressed in a white button shirt and khakis and set a can of Coca Cola he was drinking on the pedestal. “There is only one Coke,” he said. Generally from what I remember, he talked about how the look of the can, while there have been slight modifications and tweaks, has remained remarkably consistent throughout the years and has held true to its core unlike its competitor, which had gone off to dilute its image with a gazillion versions of itself. That’s what he said the Gap as company was trying to achieve in its brand. And apparently, it worked, as he had transformed a small record and T-shirt store selling Levi’s into a global vertical retail apparel behemoth.
Well, since that time, Coca-Cola has begun offering multiple versions and attempted ill-fated experiments in New Coke, and the Gap has just unveiled a new logo. People far smarter than I have built businesses and brands expanding, changing, and reinventing themselves with great success, from toothpaste to soft drinks. Tell me how does a brand continue to stay relevant, decide to change or hold to its guns to navigate through the ebb and flow of thriving prosperity and waning relevance?
It reminds us that imagery is the easiest and therefore most impactful reflection of a brand. But I believe it’s not where brands lose their way. While the starting point of branding may be imagery, it needs to extend throughout the business. Complacency in its value offering is the ultimate culprit, not the imagery. For the Gap, perhaps a better focus on ensuring their product remained relevant and their retail experience more inviting would have been more prudent than continuing to rely on existing formulas. Their product and stores got stale. And when they tried to adjust, they over-reacted by trying to offer anything they thought would appeal to the public – trying to be everything to everyone. They lost their way.
I am saying nothing new to everyone here on Imprint. But decisions like the recently unveiled new logo for the Gap remind us that the most obvious vehicle of change may not be the best one. Perhaps they should have asked Madonna for her secret …