Gap Inc. is searching for "a creative partner for our holiday 2010 campaign," according to Advertising Age. In the spirit of helping the brand’s managers with their decision, I hereby offer up some straight and very dim suggestions:
First, enough with the faux hip advertising. You've been trying to duplicate the successful "Khaki Swing" campaign since the mid-1990s. You can't. Annie Leibovitz can take pictures of every celebrity in existence and nobody will care. Your spots of dancing people during the holidays last year were inane. It's not that the stuff isn't sometimes fun or occasionally memorable but rather it's not authentic. The brand wears creative like it was a seasonal fashion. You spend lots of money every year to tell us that you're willing to spend lots of money to tell us nothing. Ads that have no credibility are not hip.
Second, stop trying to invent fads. I respect your gross, self-delusional belief that you can tell everyone what to wear, but that's only because it's so gloriously wrong. Listen to those social media types who are pitching you every five minutes; one of the only things on which they'll agree (or is actually true) is that fads can't have obvious corporate sponsors. It just doesn’t work that way, no matter how brilliantly you wrap that fame-destined scarf around starlets' necks. Ads that are purposefully ahead of consumers are simply irrelevant to them.
Third, you're competing with Kohl's, Target, Macy's, Wal-Mart, and a gaggle of other special clothing retailers. Skip the haute couture fantasy already. Even if you could guess a fashion trend before it caught on, your window of exclusivity would last about a nanosecond. The reality is that you share customers with most of your competition, and those customers all pretty much wear the same things that they can find at most of your stores. You keep swinging for the bleacher fences while people are buying T-shirts and other staples, and nobody needs to be told that basics are cool...they're all we can afford. You can't change these facts with an ad campaign.
Fourth, your stores still suck. So does your email marketing and your web site. Have you ever done a comparison to those retailers I mentioned above? Everything you do is utterly interchangeable. Worse, it's obvious to even your occasional customers that your pricing strategy is intended to grab as much margin as you can on the front-end, so all they have to do is wait for you to mark stuff down later on. Nothing you say or promise in your ads can overcome the shortcomings in these other influences on your brand.
Ugh, I'm complaining again, aren't I? It's just so frustrating because Gap could stun us by doing truly reality-acknowledging, business-daring things, like:
- Become a service brand, not a product brand. Redefine the very nature of your business as a relationship with your core consumers, not a producer of merchandise that you keep trying to throw at her. Become the first retailer to crack the code on what elements of a relationship really matter and which prompt repeat purchase. I bet it would change your pricing, merchandising, promotions, store hours, staff training, and various other operational processes.
- Reaffirm your quality leadership. The only way you are going to be able to consistently charge more money for your stuff is if it's better than everyone else's stuff. You do not want to be in the disposal clothing business like Forever 21. Quality is just about the only product quality on which your brand can rely (which means your customers can rely on it).
- Use your advertising to communicate your USP. Make it as funny or sexy or memorable as you want, but do so because it helps communicate the substance of why you're different. Again, it doesn't matter if your ads are different. Be different. Tell the truth.
I fear that none of this advice is going to be much help with this year's holiday selling season. The latest news and performance results coming from Gap suggest that the brand has absolutely no idea what to do. It's still to preoccupied with its imagined past to create what's possible in the future. No ad agency can change this.
The brand is haunted by dancing khakis.
(Photo credit: It's a screen grab from the "Dancing Khakis"