Businesses walking a fine line with social network exploitation

A former colleague of mine at Berkeley PR wrote a thought-provoking blog post this week about Gap’s logo redesign.

In case you haven’t heard; the fashion retailer recently trialled a new logo that was swiftly slated by social media users. I added a comment beneath the post:

It seems to me that the logo fiasco was actually a PR success for Gap. Whether you believe that “all publicity is good publicity” or not, it certainly got everyone talking about the clothes retailer and its strong, well-liked, established brand.

It also showed the world that this company is listening to its audience via social media. That’s a positive, forward-thinking message to be sharing with the market.

Not a bad result for such a naive branding error!

While my comment demonstrates that it initially seemed like Gap had made an honest mistake, people quickly began to wonder whether it was actually a sly move by the retailer designed to simply grab some headlines. The question on everyone’s lips became: is it a publicity stunt or a terribly misguided re-branding exercise? We may never know. It seems highly unlikely that the Gap team will come clean if it was a sham.

It has left me wondering, though, whether PR “stunts” will continue to succeed as people become savvier about how organisations can manipulate users on social networks. Could these kinds of exploit increasingly backfire, with companies being resented for employing such sly tactics?

It’s certainly food for thought.

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One thought on “Businesses walking a fine line with social network exploitation

  1. A fascinating article Becca. This particular stunt is something that we’ve discussed here in some depth – Plenty of opinions and thoughts bouncing about.

    I think that for me, the biggest mistake that Gap made was to back down and re-instate the original Logo after the initial backlash. Agreed, the revised logo left a lot to be desired, but there was a serious opportunity missed.
    Gap caught the attention of the general public, to the extent that a number of people ‘had a go’ at their own logos – just a few examples can be seen on sites like these;

    http://blog.iso50.com/logos/gap-redesign-contest/

    http://99designs.com/logo-design/contests/design-better-gap-logo-community-project-54693

    For me, the missed trick was to not involve the wider online community more. Gap should have not only listened when people complained about the ‘new’ logo, but rather, reached out to the community to help them source a new one. It would have been the crowdsourcing highlight of the year and nothing but positive publicity, not to mention a rather cheap way to re-brand. The contest and related press might still be visible in the public eye for some time – I was genuinely disappointed to see Gap just back down so fast, and as a Digital Marketer, I can’t help but feel that in the current climate, this was a half-baked ‘campaign’.

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