Facebook, Gap and Marketing Communications

mylogo_logoA few months back, Gap made a U-turn on it’s new branding – and returned to the old. The re-rebranding was the result of consumers using social media (like twitter or the “Crap Logo Yourself” site) to pressure the company for the reinstatement of the old logo. Gap, of course, is far from the first company to give into social media pressure. What was different with the Gap story though is that the “dispute” was about the logo – and the logo alone. Most previous examples of successful social media pressure have been around products or services.  So the question is why get so upset about a new logo – if all else stays the same?
In a totally unconnected move, Facebook just announced the arrival of the integrated inbox. Hardly revolutionary – iPhones had those (at least for email) for quite a while. What made Facebook’s announcement probably more novel was that the new inbox has the functionality to limit inbound messages to only those of people known to the user. One could argue a way of making sure everyone is on Facebook, but maybe more importantly it is a very effective way of combating spam. And, maybe more symbolic of “the new” way of communicating: increasingly personalised and with ever higher barriers for “unknown” or “unwanted” communication – complimented by an always increasing skepticism towards (overt) marketing.
Somehow the situation seems perplexing: strong brand affinity on the one side and disconnection from “unknown” brands on the other. But maybe, what is really happening isn’t quite so confusing at all – but it may well be shifting what we think about marketing .
Somewhat traditionally we believe (and teach) that we can create brands. That somehow we can control our brands and make people see us the way we want to be seen. What if this view is actually not right (or at least starting to go wrong)? Maybe when we thought we created brands, and we “owned” the brand image, the attributes and communication channels we used – all were actually never ours, but just borrowed, until something better, more personal came along? How about the notion that really there is no such thing as a more or less consistent “brand” – but rather a “collective view” of us. Owned, and formed not in our meeting rooms or on our whiteboards, but solely in the heads of thousands of individuals? Yes, we were, maybe for a time, able to deliver a convincing message that we are like we wanted to be seen. But really, what we were was just what each individual saw us as. So when Gap tried to change this, the individuals rebelled. And maybe increased personalisation of communication tools has just highlighted that maybe soon we’ll be only talking to people who “own” us – maybe not in the materialistic sense of the word. But in the idealistic sense, similar to a “mental co-operative” maybe.
Such a view has some pretty interesting implications. We are rapidly moving away from us (the marketeers) leading the way and “communicating to” our public(s) – to us servicing our public(s). Almost similar to a charity that is volunteer-led, rather than an organisation that follows a mission. Of course, one could argue that in many ways that is exactly what marketing is all about – but honestly, is that been what we have been doing?

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