Who owns your brand?
Hint: The same person who owns your dog. Stop looking around. It’s you. If you don’t have a dog, just play along.
If your dog eats the neighbour’s lawn furniture, it’s your problem. If that neighbour blogs, tweets or otherwise moans publicly about it, then it’s still your problem but more people know about it. So it’s arguably a bigger problem.
If your dog rescues a basket of kittens from a burning house and manages not to eat one of them, it’s your proud moment. If the neighbour blogs, tweets or otherwise publicly praises the dog, it’s still your proud moment but more people know about it.
Brands are the same: good or bad, kitten-eater or hero, brands are owned by the people who pay to register the trademarks, patents, designs and other property. Who are the same people who pay to update the website, make the products, deliver the services, clean the floors and so on. Just like the dog belongs to whoever pays the vet bill, buys the kibble and takes it for a walk.
So why, oh why, oh why does this ridiculous idea that brands now “belong” to customers continue to circulate? People like Christopher Carfi cite the backlash against Sony’s botched PS3 launch, among other notable fails as evidence. And this logic suggests that if people mock your brand, they now have some kind of ownership stake. If we take that a step further, Jon Stewart probably owns the Fox News brand, which would be a fairly nasty surprise for both parties.
Do you recall how many people ran out and claimed to own the BP brand while said company was lubricating the Gulf of Mexico? Not so many. But plenty mocked.
The sad part is a lot of companies are buying into this nonsense that the critical mass of all social media somehow confers ownership on its participants. Maybe this comes from the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. But I would remind you that it also takes a village to raise an idiot.
Which brings me to GAP. Those poor buggers. They had every right to change their logo. Because it’s THEIR logo. Just as you have every right to have your dog clipped until it resembles an ambulatory crockpot because it’s YOUR dog.
I would imagine they approached the task with all the right bits in place: brand perso
nality analyses, focus groups, A/B tests, creative briefs and all 64 Crayons. But then the critics showed up. Which is their right. And they mocked and they sneered and they made up very funny parody sites and it all went viral and GAP started spinning like a not -terribly-bright dog who has mistaken its tail for a squirrel. And they spun, and the blognocrats laughed and GAP spun some more and then went home and killed their new logo. Which is a very sad, very cowardly way to end it all. Stephen Denny has a way more eloquent post on the subject of guts.
So GAP abdicated its brand ownership, which is the marketing equivalent of dropping the dog off at the shelter to see if it can do better with someone else. That usually doesn’t end well for the dog, incidentally. They let Vanity Fair (how many of their editors are GAP customers?) and a bunch of bored under-employed designers (also not lining up at GAP on Saturday morning) scare them away from doing their jobs.
Let’s be clear: I don’t have an opinion of the old or new GAP logos. I’m not a designer, I don’t work for GAP and I’m fairly sure angry middle-aged women are not their target market so who the hell cares what I think? It’s not my place to weigh in on what you name your kids or to question why every Golden Retriever is named for a mid-western state. It’s none of my business. And GAP should ignore me.
If you’re losing sleep wondering if your customers are out there throwing a tennis ball for your brand when you’re not home, don’t. The only person who gets to play with your brand, sneak it people food and let it bark at 5am is you.
Bonus links: If you like to mock other brands’ logos as much as I do, here are some great places to do it.