Love it or hate it, you can't deny the power of FaceBook.
The life-eating social-notworking site has half a billion members all of whom like the sound of their own voices, but anodyne American clothes retailer Gap has found to its detriment that those voices can be unpleasantly critical.
Every business on the planet is currently looking at ways to exploit that most cringeworthy of buzz-words, social media. Do a search for any well-known company on FaceBook or any of its also-ran predecessors or recent imitators we'll lay pounds to pennies that you'll find they have a presence.
In most cases that presence will be a bit like your fat middle-aged uncle who insists on wearing skate shoes and a backwards baseball cap, and tries to get down wiv da kidz by talking like a teenager. Getting employees of global megacorporations to engage with such a diverse and multicultural audience without looking like a bit of an arse is a tall order.
Social media is still in its infancy. Trying to find a niche in an ever-changing digital arena is a bit like trying to find a foot-hold in a sand dune. It's not only the content of social sites like Facebook and YouTube which change and evolve on an hourly basis. It's the idiom... the tone and the language.
In most cases, conservatism in any shape or form is a definite no-no. But the marketeers at Gap found recently that the only rule in social networking is that there are no rules. Or that the rules are subject to change without notice.
In an attempt to spruce up its image as a clothing outlet more suited to oldsters trying to be hipsters rather than for the low-slung 'here-have-a-look-at-my-skidmarks' generation, the PR clowns at Gap decided to launch a brand new logo, dumping the familiar seriffed typeface on a dark blue square (above) for what they obviously thought was a more modern approach.
In an article on the Huff, Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, said: “We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current. It honours our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward." Oh dear.
As you'll probably be aware, branding design isn't cheap. The marketing department at Gap almost certainly spent many thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours coming up with the new design. The fact that they chose to test the water by previewing the new logo on the Internet has left the company with egg on its face, but could have saved it millions in re-branding costs.
Asking FaceBook users to comment on the re-design garnered such a furious backlash that the outfit has now done such a rapid u-turn that it must have a serious crick in its neck.
A sheepish press release from the company's big cheese in America reads: "Since we rolled out an updated version of our logo last week on our website, we’ve seen an outpouring of comments from customers and the online community in support of the iconic blue box logo.
“Last week, we moved to address the feedback and began exploring how we could tap into all of the passion. Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand. All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we’ve made the decision not to use the new logo on gap.com any further.
“...We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels."
He added: “There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way. “
There's a stern lesson to be learned here. The Internet is a fantastic tool but it is populated with real people with real opinions. No amount of one-on-one marketing research surveys with the kind of people willing (or able) to waste their time doing those surveys is ever going to truly capture the opinion of the public at large.
The kind of anonymity afforded by the Internet and its manifold forums is the truest barometer of public perception in the history of mankind.
But don't expect anything other than a brutal mauling if you rub it up the wrong way.