This Brand Needs Rehab

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

The Gap has proven again, as if we needed another reminder, that it’s addicted to an old, ruined, costly, and self-destructive idea of what constitutes a brand.

This Brand Needs Rehab. If you’re a stockholder, sell. If you’re an employee, brush off your resume. And if you’re an expert or firm that is responsible for selling this branding nonsense to a clearly impaired client, shame on you.

I opened my May 19 issue of The New Yorker to find not one, or a few, but many pages of ads for Gap T-shirts created (and mostly worn) by artists. It’s in celebration of the 2008 Whitney Biennial (whatever that is; sorry, I live in flyover country, where most of the stores are located). It seems that Gap is collaborating with previous Biennial artists to create a limited collection.

The shirts are mostly inane, though some feature a bold, explosive Gama-Go thing. The artists are mostly well into the broad "middle" on age, and seem to represent every conceivable ethnic or gender persuasion. As for what the shirts really look like (they’re worn all twisted or messed up), what they cost, or where they’re available, you’re outta luck: there’s not even a mention of the collection or ad campaign on the company’s web site.

It’s utterly tasteful…and completely useless.

Why does Gap insist on producing this dreck? I’ve written about past image campaigns (here, here, and here) and pondered the facts that 1) its competitors have copied it, so the imagery doesn’t stand out, and 2) there’s no way the stuff would drive store traffic anyway. It’s clearly not meant to do anything of the sort.

Ever since the happy days of those dancers wearing their khakis, Gap has seemed addicted to the conceit that it can "brand" itself with image advertising..or that it would matter even if it could.

It has tenaciously stuck to this idea in the fact of comp store sales that consistently tumble, a revolving-door of executives, rumors that the company is up for sale, and store interiors that make a Kohl’s look like they got something right. The clothing itself looks like, is priced near, and served by employees who could be working at any of a dozen other retailers (or more). 

Maybe I’m a dim bulb on this one, but it sure seems like Gap wants to spend good money after bad. It’s not sticking to its guns as much as refusing to abandon a sinking ship (and making the hole bigger instead of trying to plug it).

I guess I’m not surprised that there’s always a brand expert, photographer, or other helpful vendor more than willing to take Gap’s money. To me, they’re no better than drug dealers; clearly, Gap is brand that is sick and unable to fend for itself.

Producing campaigns like this one not only embarrasses the company, but it gives the entire brand marketing industry a bad name.

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