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Monday, December 17, 2012

What the University of California Should Learn From Gap's 2010 Failed Logo Experiment

Posted By on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM


The University of California announced Friday that it was foregoing use of a system-wide monogram that spurned controversy and outcry over social media.

The logo was unveiled in November as an alternative to the university's Victorian seal and stood as a symbol for a new marketing campaign called Onward California, which aimed to build awareness and support for the work of UC students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partners.

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Critics vilified the change, enlisting over 54,000 supporters on an online petition.

If this story sounds familiar, it's because not too long ago we witnessed a similar dust up at Gap Incorporated. The company introduced a new logo in October 2010 in an attempt to bring its icon in line with the contemporary shift of its brand and clothing.

The company saw thousands of tweets and Facebook status updates deriding the redesign and had even flirted with crowdsourcing a solution before abandoning the new logo altogether one week after its debut.

So what can the University of California learn from Gap in the ashen entrails of a failed experiment in logo design?

Step one: admit defeat

In this regard, the University of California is ahead of the curve. People don't react to the design of a new logo, as much as to its launch. Logos are part and parcel of a thorough and solid marketing campaign barred against attacks; and here, UC has recognized its shortcomings.

By adhering to its new logo for as long as it had, the university snubbed and disenfranchised the students, alumni, and taxpayers at the heart of Onward California -- people both integral to the campaign and responsible for the university's financial survival. Overconfidence in the new logo was marketing suicide, and kudos should go to the decision makers who instead pulled its plug.

Step two: break some eggs

In the months following its logo fiasco, Gap created a new design hub, called the Global Creative Center, which combined the company's design, production, and marketing departments under one roof. It also hired a new ad agency: Ogilvy & Mather. Marka Hansen, the executive who oversaw the logo change, resigned from her post after 24 years of faithful service to the company.

Reevaluation, reorganization, and consolidation lend an opportunity to redefine a brand's relationship with design and serve as an inevitable part of revising a forward facing marketing campaign. Put simply, UC needs to break some eggs.

Step three: consider a return to the old guard

A logo is a function of identity, personality, and brand integrity, and so, its demise or retraction means focus should be placed on rebuilding this ground.

In the summer of 2011, Gap worked toward this end with the launch of an ad campaign, Born to Fit, that drew focus on the company's 40 year history. Ads hinted at Gap's legacy by merging images of its longevity with its current use of contemporary design in an attempt to reestablish brand legitimacy and inspire customer loyalty.

The University of California needs to navigate how representations of its longevity, innovation, and impact fit into a plan to rebuild trust.

Step four: innovate slowly and collaborate

The death of a logo doesn't mean an absolute shift away from addressing your company's innovation. Updating a company's image is a slow process and while there are no shortcuts, there are opportunities for collaboration that split the brunt of heavy lifting while building company clout.

Gap readdressed innovation in the fall of 2011 through a campaign that positioned the company as an edgy, but accessible trendsetter. This campaign included 30 short documentaries on new, exciting, and premiere designers who were partnered with the company. The ads established Gap as a trusted lifestyle brand that rewarded customer loyalty with the very best that fashion had to offer.

Two years have passed since the Gap logo kerfuffle and the company has managed to brush a lot under the rug, but it certainly hasn't fully recovered. Gap's revenues totaled $14.5 billion this year -- just under its annual earnings in 2011.

The future is murky, too, for the University of California and the direction of its Onward California campaign. In a statement released to the UC community, Jason Simon, UC director of marketing communications, expressed the university's commitment to engaging in open dialogue, as it moves to suspend use of the new logo. With any hope, this discussion will lead the University of California back to the tenets that made it a stellar institution and serve to better its work in academics, research, and public service.

Jessica Hilo is a product of the University of California academic system and has a relative employed by the institution.

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Jessica Hilo


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