Commentary

Gap Logo Controversy, SunChips' Noisy Bag, Marks the Return of Whiner Nation

The recession that ended a while ago doesn't seem to have ended. The "system" for foreclosing on homes is an unmitigated disaster. It has been a season of woefully bad news.

So, in America, what this means is that the most pressing issues of our time are the changing -- and changing back  -- of the Gap logo, and that SunChips' compostable bags are way too noisy.

Good God.

And, for that, I suppose -- sigh! -- we can blame social media. When I look back on weeks like this one, I become convinced we're way off concerning what's too noisy: it's the sound of our voices, drowning out things that are really important. Like the threat of global warming -- actually trumped by people whining over a noisy bag meant to help mitigates its effects! I loved this quote from a columnist at UMass' Daily Collegian: "How high-strung do you have to be to get upset over a noisy chip bag?" 

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Whiner Nation, welcome back! Although, really, just like I thought when I first wrote about you a year ago, it's not like you ever went away. There's been loads to whine about in the last year, much of it showing how deeply we need a reality check.

As the requisite fake Gap logo account tweeted over the retailer's little design imbroglio: "We can argue about healthcare and immigration later. Right now we have to do something about this new Gap logo!"

(I should point out -- or maybe I shouldn't -- that the tweet was an @reply to a fake Sarah Palin Twitter account. Ugh. This is getting way too meta.) 

Not that people shouldn't state their opinions, and that companies shouldn't listen to their consumers, but this is getting ridiculous. If you're Gap or Pepsico (maker of that annoying chips bag), you should start doing two things:

1) being a little less sensitive to some of your consumers' outsized emotions and their apparent abundance of free time to express themselves,  
2) putting a strategy in place to placate Whiner Nation before you go around making noisy chip bags or changing logos. Then you won't necessarily have to cave into their demands. 

In Pepsico's case, it would've been useful -- without pointing fingers at the whiners -- to restate why the bag is so noisy. Write a funny commercial about it and post it on YouTube. Meanwhile, back at the lab, make sure employees are concocting a way to make the bag less noisy. Then, when the new bag finally launches, you've got another opportunity to, well, make noise about SunChips and how green Pepsi is. It's a win-win-win. (That third win is for planet earth.)

Right now, the company looks like it's only green to the point its consumers don't whine about the sacrifices it takes to be green, which means its true positioning is little different then when someone uses a fig leaf to cover his privates and claims to be fully dressed. The noisy-bag controversy is time for education, not caving. Yes, apparently, SunChips sales have taken a hit over the last year - which PepsiCo attributes to the bag - but what positioning does PepsiCo really want? To be known as a company committed to sustainable operations, or one that sacrifices doing something good for the planet to sell more bags of chips? Unfortunately, we know the answer. 

I know that last section took a turn into environmental diatribe, but, it actually encapsulates part of what's so bad about making decisions based partly on how many people complain about something on Facebook. It sacrifices long-term thinking for short-term.  

Gap's logo controversy is a non-starter, but not just because of whining logo reviewers. Redesigning logos in a cluttered marketplace is a stupid idea -- almost always a sign of too many designers with too much time on their hands. It's not smart to mess with your company's visual shorthand.  

What's incredible is that Gap didn't realize going in that people would hate the new logo. Why? Because people always hate new logos. That said, if it was so hell-bent on changing its logo, it should've been prepared to stay the course. Instead, it's caved into Whiner Nation, potentially paralyzing it from making further long-term decisions that -- unlike logo redesigns -- might actually benefit the brand.

12 comments about "Gap Logo Controversy, SunChips' Noisy Bag, Marks the Return of Whiner Nation ".
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  1. len stein, October 13, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

    go Whiner Nation - let's show those corporations we can get our way, one way or (tears) another.

    mayhaps they will learn to ask us first, before delivering what-ever They want to.

  2. Daniel Ahiakpor from Vdopia Inc., October 13, 2010 at 3:16 p.m.

    Very well said, Catharine, and I agree, 99.9%. (Only leaving out the .1% because the Gap logo really was THAT bad... Cheers.)

  3. Mark Burrell from Tongal, October 13, 2010 at 3:22 p.m.

    Was really surprised that when the choice was noisy bag vs saving planet Earth, they went with noise:)

  4. Darrin Searancke from Halifax Chronicle Herald, October 13, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.

    Not to be a whiner, however I'm pretty sure it was just designers who whined about the new GAP logo.

  5. Tiffany Jonas from The AIO Group | AIO Design LLC, October 13, 2010 at 3:26 p.m.

    I agree to a point... I was certainly laughing (ruefully) at the fake Gap tweet you quoted!

    And yet in the past, many corporations could (and did) tell consumers what they were going to do and if it wasn't friendly to them, oh well. I doubt many consumers want to go back to that. Empowering consumers can probably be taken too far, but in my mind, this wasn't such a case. Both designs (logo and bag) were genuinely flawed and the people pointing it out were correct.

    All this said, it was refreshing to read this post; it's good to hear from a devil's advocate! (And you're right that we should be spending our energy and passion on worthy causes.) You've supplied a point of caution worth noting.

  6. Jeffrey Clayton from Autodesk, October 13, 2010 at 4:04 p.m.

    Krinkly bags -- a legitimate issue for ninjas, and those who sneak snacks into libraries and theaters.

    GAP logo -- don't be even more design-obtuse than Gap Inc. They realized their mark was screaming, "1995!" They just swapped it for something so banal that it could have been spit up by an algorithm. Not good for a fashion label at any tier of the industry. If disgusted customers had been unable to voice their dislike, this branding blunder would have hurt Gap far more than it actually has...

  7. Erin Kaese from Athletic-Minded Traveler LLC, October 13, 2010 at 4:27 p.m.

    first off, negativity is the path of least resistance. second, I LOVE the idea of having Pepsi make fun of the noise issue with a video etc. That would have been perfect. third, research shows that when someone does not like something they are more compelled to speak up.

    okay, a confession, we blogged about hotel and their noisy sheets -- 4 years ago!!! http://www.athleticmindedtraveler.com/blog/i-propose-hotel-sheet-wars

  8. Brian Asner from Upshot, October 13, 2010 at 4:48 p.m.

    If the Gap took a page from Chiquita's playbook, would they have avoided this debacle? Or, are logo redesigns inevitably doomed? We try to untangle the whole mess here: http://j.mp/9usmVH

  9. Lindsay Rose from imc2, October 13, 2010 at 5 p.m.

    Amen sista! We talk so much about demonstrating that we’re listening to consumers (and we should be), but that doesn’t mean we need to let them run our business. What Sun Chips was doing was a great thing and really presented them as a leader in the industry…oh wait, it’s too loud? Then never mind. Let’s continue to do things that pollute the environment unnecessarily. Your idea was great! Was the new Sun Chips bag ridiculously loud? Yes. Did it keep me from buying them? No. Apparently it did hurt sales, but that doesn't mean give up, just continuously improve and make it an priority. My first thought when I heard about the Gap logo thing was, “How much time and money did they spend on creating and unveiling a new logo, only to scrap the whole thing because of a few vocal whiners?" Why did they decide to change the logo in the first place, who knows? But my goodness, if that all it takes for them to turn on an important piece on their marketing plan, then let’s get them to do something really meaningful…like quit trying to bring back stirrup pants.

  10. Walt Guarino from Insight/SGW, October 14, 2010 at 10:23 a.m.

    Hi Catherine! I was interviewed by CBS News on this subject last Tuesday. I basically said it was the right decision from a brand image standpoint to eliminate some of the bags and to look for one that would not be objectionable in the future. I also added that it's amazing how a company can be punished when they are trying to do the right thing. I can think of a lot of companies that deserve to be under greater scrutiny than Frito-Lay. Great article.

  11. Noemi Pollack from The Pollack PR Marketing Group, October 14, 2010 at 6:13 p.m.

    Brilliant Catherine! Whiners indeed, but sadly, they were the winning party in the Gap logo saga. Can corporations truly be held hostage as to the "look and feel" of their brand by social media enthusiasts who are self-proclaimed critics and have no basis at all for a judgment call?

    Apparently yes, as seen by the outcome of the new logo controversy. Corporations would do well to use the Gap case as an example of how not to roll out a change in the future. Unfortunately, for now, Gap has become the poster child...

    Noemi Pollack

  12. Kellee Harris from Package Containers, Inc., November 1, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.

    OK - here's an idea Pepsi should have done (and still could do!) re: the Sun Chips controversy...take all those 'noisy' bags and give 'em to college students for a nationally televised football game...I strongly recommend the greenest, meanest team out there - University of Oregon - and yes, we are #1 despite what the computer polls say! Besides, we need all the 'Sun' we can get in Oregon, and everyone knows those students always have the munchies anyway! Go Ducks!

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