Inside the psychology of your logo: There’s a reason Gap’s redesign was such a failure

Consumer impressions of products diverge sharply based on the logo
While they’re commonly called “intangible assets”, logos matter. Gap learned this lesson in 2010 when it attempted to change its logo, but quickly abandoned the endeavour after it met with a furious backlash from followers on Twitter and Facebook. What the retailer hadn’t realised was how the subtle aspects of its logo were perceived, and how a complete revamp might affect those perceptions.
We wanted to probe further. As my colleagues and I point out in a new paper, a logo’s shape can have a sizeable impact on the judgements people make about a firm or product.


First, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that circular or angular logos activate associations of “softness” and “hardness” respectively. Obviously, these associations extend beyond physical notions of softness and hardness. For example, if a person is reading an ad for a services company, the notion of softness may give the reader an image of the firm as being more sensitive to its customers.


We took this further by presenting an ad for a specific product – in this case, a sports shoe – to see whether the effect of the logo’s shape influenced perception of that product. The circular logo led to perceptions of comfortableness, whereas the angular logo led to perceptions of durability.
In a later experiment, we used a different type of logo, with sofas as the product category. This had the same effect: consumers associated the sofas with softness if a rounded logo was present and hardness when an angular logo was present.


While logo shape has a big part to play in consumer perception, it can also be accentuated or reduced by accompanying visual imagery in an advertisement. If the inference from the logo shape opposes the visual imagery, that inference will be less powerful.
We also found that the attributes of circular or angular logo shapes were made more noticeable if the headline of the ad reflected similar attributes. This effect was again diminished when the headline focused on other aspects. In our shoe ad for instance, the logo shape’s effect on the perception of comfortableness was accentuated with a headline that illustrated comfortableness – but this effect was diminished when the ad headline focused on durability. It’s no wonder that advertising guru David Ogilvy described the headline as 80 per cent of the ad.
We also found that consumers had a greater willingness to pay for the product if the logo shape inferences were consistent with the verbal information of the ad.


In another experiment, participants were shown the scenario of a passenger carrying overweight baggage trying to board a plane operated by a company with either a circular or angular logo. They were asked how likely the passenger was to be allowed to board without a penalty.
As expected, participants reckoned that the airline would be more likely to allow the passenger to bring their bag on board without a penalty if it had a circular logo. Conversely, an airline with an angular logo was thought to be less willing to respond to passenger needs and care about its customers.

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