Friday, 29 October 2010

dandad got me writing...!

So, then: it's been a long week in communications, a week which saw the coming (and rapid departure) of a new logo for one of our most respected high street stalwarts, and one of our literary fathers questioning the purpose of the social media space... As I said – a long week.

In the last few days I’m sure we’ve all watched on as GAP became entrenched in a rather messy engagement with bloggers and tweeters, ending in the sheepish retraction of their box fresh – and rather mystifying – new logo. As far as I (and Michael Johnson) know, this was a battle fought purely online. Yes, they replaced the logo at, but I don't know of any storefront or swing tag that rolled out the new identity. Nevertheless, it seems the proposed change was a real suggestion, which raises a few questions.

Surely Laird & Partners now hold the record for a U-turn on a rebrand activation. But, as Scott Hansen points out in his open call for designers to 'have a go' at redesigning the logo, it isn’t as easy as you think. He goes on to say that 'these mega-rebrands are always hit with a wave of inevitable criticism', a feeling that Michael Johnson echoed when I spoke to him earlier about 'Gapgate', in that people seem inherently pre-programmed to complain, especially where logos are concerned. [Insert personal experience here]. He emphatically agreed that yes, the GAP do really need an update from the 'lexicon of love' aesthetic they seem to be stuck in, but we both agreed that this storm of publicity has proved that there's a time and a place for crowdsourcing and a global rebrand just isn’t one of them. The move is over GAP, which I think we all know will choose to stay where they are. Genius.

GAP insisted it wasn’t a stunt, but feeling online leant towards 'crafty publicity gimmick'. Yes, the whole episode has been mismanaged, but it highlights yet again the pivotal role in identity work of strategic thinking coupled with beautiful craft skill – things seemingly missing here. If indeed the idea was to create 'buzz' around the identity and stir up some debate around GAP, they’ve certainly succeeded (I mean, I’m writing this, for one) but at what cost? Consumers are very wise to brands and how coherent they are (or aren’t). This may well be a big glitch in the public’s perception of the GAP brand. It does, however, illustrate that people with similar viewpoints can swiftly find common ground, form a collective voice, and change things.

This mobilisation of the angry masses brings us neatly to the other frisson of the last few days – our literary godfather Malcolm Gladwell denouncing social media and its real effectiveness in mobilising like-minded individuals into effective communities. He stated that online communities lacked "emotional connection or engagement", let alone the ability to change issues of a more humanitarian or political focus (dare I say it, something ‘worthwhile’). In his New Yorker piece, he wrote off the notion of social media bringing about social change as "strong, and puzzling, claims", going on to ask, "Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?”

Unsurprisingly, the media space in the firing line responded in their droves, with the Guardian’s Josh Halliday calling him “laughable” and Biz Stone himself saying the piece was "entertaining but kind of pointless”. So why did we get so het up about this...?

Well, my theory runs something like this...we live in an age where we have new, very shiny tools to communicate with each other – it’s an 80s term but we are living in the information age. Neville Brody (for one) has repeatedly reminded us that we are experiencing an era of real change – his Anti Design Festival is a great example of a mixture of grassroots and digital mobilisation unique to its time. This change could be likened to the second industrial revolution, where electrification, the combustion engine and mass production were the game changers. These days, it’s computing, telecommunications and information that are the young upstarts affecting not just business, but all aspects of our lives.

Technology has permeated our culture and specifically, in relation to Gladwell's article, how we communicate. Compared to the legacy of failed tech platforms that attempted to connect us (Geocities, UpMyStreet., Wal-Mart’s ‘The Hub’…!?), today we have things that work. For the most part, they not only work very well, but – hey! - work wherever you are, on whatever platform you’re on, and are stable (unlike 10 years ago). They have actually become part of our daily routine, like tea and toast or getting stuck in traffic.

The fact that they are so embedded in our culture, our routine, our businesses and our social life means that we become defensive when someone attacks it. It’s like learning a new language and then being told that you can't use it. Gladwell has said that he doesn't really engage with digital media, saying that he finds it intrusive and is trying to make more space for what's important to him – a sentiment I completely agree with, but damning an entire mode of communication seems a bit drastic.
Wherever people do mobilise online, it may be their first personal foray into activism, surely something to support?

One thing in this whole fandango seems clear – people power is alive and well online. The only question is what we’ll do with it. My year at D&AD will hopefully bring some of these more philanthropic issues to the fore. We have some great ideas for how to do this, but we'll be asking for your help soon – and if this week’s taught us anything, it’s how many opinions there are on the internet, so stay tuned to give us yours.

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