Why Gap's logo change failed but Netflix's didn't
There’s a temptation to change the logo at virtually every point in a company’s existence. The justifications are varied but the only real reason a company should change its logo is to signify a shift in strategy to address a change in the market.
Frequently, though, the logo is changed in the absence of a thoughtful shift in strategy. Perhaps the new leadership wants to put their stamp on the company. Perhaps the logo now looks dated. Whatever the reason, it can be a waste of time and resources. And it can actually negatively impact the value of a brand as a whole.
Let’s take a look at a couple of companies who decided to change their logo. The first tried to let the logo signal an upcoming shift, the second made a shift then changed its logo.
Mind the Gap brand fatigue
In 2010, amidst declining sales, the Gap decided it was time to change its logo. Had they “reset” the brand experience within the stores? No. Had they revamped its apparel lines heading into a new direction? No, again. It was because the company hadn’t changed the logo in over 20 years. Basically, the company suffered from a case of “brand fatigue,” Brand fatigue is basically change-for-change’s sake. Apparently the Gap felt that the logo had been around so long it needed to be changed.
Rather than make a strategic shift followed by a signal to consumers, they signaled first. Which only served to confuse consumers. People saw the same website, same stores with the same merchandise but with a new logo. It didn’t make any sense and the resulting backlash was instant, as well as intense. Let’s not go into how the Gap’s sudden attempt at crowdsourcing and subsequent backtracking on the logo only worsened the brand damage. Suffice to say those weren’t great moves either. The net result was that the Gap had to distract itself in order to clean up the mess.
Netflix shifts strategic direction, then changes the logo
Recently, and with no company fanfare, Netflix changed its logo. The logo that had represented the company for over 14 years was out, and a new one was in. At first blush, it may seem odd. The old Netflix logo was highly recognizable and everywhere.
For the brand’s entire existence, up until the release of the Netflix original productions Lilyhammer, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, it had been focused on better delivery of movies and TV shows. But those movies and TV shows were created by others.
Switching from DVD to streaming simply marked a change in delivery method, not a change in strategy. But as markets shifted so did Netflix. After finding itself in a check-writing competition with Apple, Amazon, Hulu and, to some extent, HBO and Showtime, it decided to truly differentiate itself by creating episodic shows. As the company said, the goal was “to become more like HBO, faster than HBO could become like Netflix.”
The old logo had overseen the growth of a small, United States only DVD service that had transformed into a global streaming brand. It represented where they had been, but not where they were going. While Netflix did incorporate the arch in the lettermark and signature red into the new logo, the shift is intended as a clear signal to consumers that this is a new Netflix. One of the reasons there was very little chatter about the new logo is that there was sound reasoning behind the change.
Refining a logo to make it less dated makes sense from time-to-time. But wholesale swap out of a logo in attempt to "change things up" can cash out large amounts of brand equity, distract from the core mission, demoralized staff and negatively impact the brand and business. Before changing the logo it is wise to ask what is that change really going to signal to the consumer. A significant shift in strategy or just a confusing change for seemingly no reason?
Post script: To be clear, this is not an evaluation of either of the new logos produced. This is about the "why" behind the change not the resultant logo designs.