Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 6, 2015

When rebranding fails: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

The much-loved original logo.

The unsuccessful new logo.

In 2010 the clothing retailer Gap launched its new ‘hip’ logo (bottom image).  However, the backlash from customers was so intense – more than 2,000 people commented on Gap’s Facebook page criticising the decision to ditch the well-known logo – that only one week later, the company was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn and revert back to its original logo (top image).  I also personally dislike the new logo (it looks like it could have been made by anyone with limited graphic skills) and much prefer the original.  The clear moral of the story here is do not mess with a well-loved brand, and if the Gap  president Marka Hansen (who was promptly fired after the humiliating rebranding saga) had read some of the psychological evidence on this beforehand she may not have made such an ill-fated decision.

A study by Campbell and Keller (2003) clearly demonstrates that, when it comes to brand effectiveness, familiarity is key.  Participants in the study were asked to watch a half-hour local news programme which included three ad breaks.  Some of the adverts were about brands which were familiar to the participants and others were about fictitious brands for which unfamiliar adverts had been deliberately created.  The amount of times a participant viewed an advert was also systematically varied – some adverts were only viewed once, some were viewed in two out of the three ad breaks and some were viewed in all three ad breaks.  After watching the news programme participants were then asked rate their attitudes towards the adverts on a 7-point scale.

As can be seen in figure 1 below, repetition lead to a decrease in the attitudes towards the advert (Aad) when the advert was unfamiliar (known as a wear-out effect), but no such effect was seen for familiar brands – Aad increased linearly with increased repetition.  This suggests that when people are familiar with a brand, they are less likely to think about the inappropriate and over-use of advertising tactics.  Therefore, the use of persuasion techniques, such as repetition, is likely to be more effective for adverts of familiar brands.

Figure 1. Attitudes towards the advert.

Applied to the Gap rebranding saga, the evidence suggests that by changing their logo Gap made their brand seem unfamiliar to their customers (even though the name remaining the same).  Not only did this upset loyal customers, but continued use of the new logo would also have made it more difficult for Gap to effectively implement persuasive tactics, such as repetition, into their future adverts.  Although it was embarrassing for Gap to admit to such a marketing fail, the company made the correct decision to revert back to the old logo as it will be much more beneficial for their sales figures in the long run!

Campbell, M. C., & Keller, K. L. (2003). Brand familiarity and advertising repetition effects. Journal of Consumer Research, 30, 292-304.

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