Don’t have a Cow

If you blinked in the last couple of weeks, chances are that you missed one of the most overhyped PR events in the recent past—Gap's logo redesign attempt.

Inspiring online engagement akin to Obama's social media campaign—from privately run logo contests to dueling twitter accounts posing as the old and new Gap logos themselves—this incident hit the collective social media nerve square in the humerus.  In less than a week, Gap went from introducing a new logo, to dealing with the public outcry with a crowd-sourcing contest, to replacing the new logo with the old oneidsgn delivers a wonderful chronological event report if you're interested.

Old and New Logos
The new (left) & the old (right)

But as designers, social media experts, and branding czars rejoice in the victory of The People vs. Corporate Ineptness, the true victor and beneficiary seems to be a completely unrelated player—Religious Idolatry.

Logos & Religion

The religious parallel shouldn't come as a surprise.

After all, the the word "logo" comes from the Greek word "Logos".  Among its many meanings, Christian theology identifies it as the human incarnate of God—Jesus Christ.  Etymologically, "logo" almost literally means "God".  Ironic, but certainly appropriate.

Over time, the status of a successful company's logo tends to divinity. Apple, Coca-Cola, UPS, AT&T, Ford, BMW, Pepsi, Ralph Lauren and as we recently learned, Gap, are just a few examples of brands whose logos have transcended graphic representation into a religious realm. They've earned adjectives like "iconic"; unsurprisingly, the word "icon", too, means "a work of religious art". You can begin seeing how logos can come to embody characteristics of idols like those in Hinduism.

As it turns out, Gap was not the first casualty of attempted idol surgery, and certainly won't be the last.

History Repeating Itself

If Gap would have done their research, they'd have found a very similar episode in 2009 featuring another major brand. I'm referring, of course, to the Pepsi rebranding incident.

Not only did the new Pepsi logo fail to impress the disciples at large, but to make matters worse, a 27-page internal pitch by the design firm, Arnell Group, leaked to the Web. The document, titled Breathtaking, almost schizophrenically attempted to relate the Pepsi logomark to everything from the Mona Lisa to the Earth's Geodynamo. It made the Arnell group come across as deranged perverts who had not only manhandled one of the world's most beloved idols, but laughed hysterically through its pillaging.

The idolatry backlash was fierce and merciless. If there were ever a social media equivalent of the Babri Masjid riots, this was probably it.

Breathtaking
A few pages from Breathtaking—The absurd Pepsi rebranding creative brief

The Moral

Perhaps the most curious aspect of idolatry of any form is that it leaves the non-participants stupefied.  While a fraction of the impassioned unite to protect their idol, the rest of the world watches confused. And, the majority? They remain clueless about an ongoing conflict.

Nonetheless, it's tempting to draw all sorts of lessons from such episodes, and the latest Gap episode was no exception.

Lessons around how to practice PR in a world with The Social Network. Or, around the need for more proficient and introspective designers.  Or, the ramifications of out-of-touch leadership in corporations. The list goes on.

But, maybe the real lesson is that when a brand becomes an idol, all bets are off and nobody really wins. And, as this hysterical scene from the new TV show Outsourced demonstrates, maybe it's best to let idols just be.

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