As Gap, Inc., approached its 35th birthday in early 2004, the 1,500-store chain was experiencing an upswing in profits and sales, reporting steady increases since 2002. First-quarter profits in 2004 were up 55 percent, and sales were up 9.4 percent compared with the same period the previous year. To celebrate its birthday and maintain the profit and sales momentum, Gap charged its advertising agency, Laird + Partners, New York, with creating a new global marketing campaign to be released in summer 2004.
For the ‘‘How Do You Wear It?’’ campaign Laird + Partners turned to what had worked well for the chain in the past: celebrity-centered television spots and print ads. Signed on as the celebrity spokeswoman was Sex and the City star and fashion idol Sarah Jessica Parker. Although no specific budget for the campaign was available, Adweek reported that Gap’s advertising budget the previous year was $140 million. Further, Gap reportedly paid Parker $38 million for her three-season, six-month contract. Besides Parker, other celebrities featured in the campaign’s different television spots and print ads included singer Lenny Kravitz, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and New England Patriots football star Tom Brady.
Despite the success of previous celebrity-centered campaigns, Gap’s new effort failed to drive sales or resonate with consumers. Within months of the campaign’s start Gap reported its worst overall sales performance in two years. The spokeswoman of the campaign, Parker, also took a hit as consumers posted their criticisms on the Internet. When Parker’s contract expired in spring 2005, Gap replaced her with a new spokeswoman: 17-year-old British singing star Joss Stone.
The Gap chain of retail clothing stores got its start in 1969, when the first store was opened in San Francisco by Doris and Don Fisher. Motivated by the desire to provide customers with an easy option for finding jeans, when the store opened, it sold only one product: Levi’s jeans for men and women. By 1970 Gap had grown to six stores, and in 1974 the rapidly expanding chain introduced its own private-label jeans as well as accessories. Over time Gap expanded its brand to include other basic casual styles, such as khakis and tees for men, women, and children. It stopped selling Levi’s in 1991. In late 1999 the chain was beginning to show its age, and as its marketing focus and product mix shifted from its core customers—baby boomers—to teens, sales fell into a steady 22-month decline. In April 2002 the chain reported a 24 percent drop in sales at stores open at least one year. Furthermore, in May of that year the company reported that overall sales for the month fell to $962 million compared with sales of $1.2 billion for the same month one year earlier.
In an effort to reverse the downward spiral, in 2002 Gap replaced its agency, Modernista! of Boston, with New York–based advertising agency Laird + Partners. The agency worked with the chain’s in-house marketing team on a new advertising campaign that would target a broader audience than the teens on whom Gap had been focusing. The partnership resulted in the ‘‘For Every Generation’’ campaign. Featuring a list of celebrities ranging from country-music icon Willie Nelson to comedian Whoopie Goldberg and actress Christina Ricci, the campaign moved Gap back to its roots of offering basic casual clothing for consumers of all ages and showed how Gap fashions were adaptable to each person’s individual style. Following the campaign’s introduction, the chain reported a sales increase of 1 percent in October 2002. While small, the sales improvement was significant considering the 17 percent drop reported for October 2001.
In 2004, as the chain prepared to celebrate its 35th anniversary, Gap also planned to release a new global marketing campaign. Based on the success of its celebrity-centered campaigns, which included the first such effort, ‘‘Individuals of Style,’’ which ran from 1988 through 1993, and the 2002 ‘‘For Every Generation’’ campaign, Gap and its agency stuck with what had worked in the past. Laird + Partners’ new campaign, ‘‘How Do You Wear It?’’ featured celebrity and fashion icon Sarah Jessica Parker as well as other celebrities who would connect with consumers and send the message that Gap offered clothes that enabled people to express their individual style.
Through the use of celebrities of all ages and genders in its marketing campaigns, Gap attempted to reach a broad range of consumers: men and women, teens to baby boomers. Earlier campaigns featured celebrities such as counterculture writer Jack Kerouac, country-music elder statesman Willie Nelson, and 20-something actress Christina Ricci wearing Gap clothes. The campaigns were designed to send the message that everyone, regardless of age or sex, could find a Gap style perfectly suited or adaptable to his or her personal taste. When, in 2004, the chain released its ‘‘How Do You Wear It?’’ campaign with 39-year-old actress Sarah Jessica Parker as its spokeswoman, it was clear that women were the target market. Parker’s TV show Sex and the City was highly popular with women. In addition, the actress was the ideal person to convey the idea of individuality, because she was closely linked with her character’s eclectic, cutting-edge style, a combination of vintage and couture clothes and pricey Manolo Blahnik shoes. According to a Gap press release, Parker’s spots were intended to connect with ‘‘women of all ages and to help them understand the versatility of our products and our spirit of individual style.’’ Not forgetting its male target, for some spots Gap’s campaign partnered Parker with singer Lenny Kravitz, also wearing Gap clothes, while additional print ads featured top athletes and actors who resonated with male consumers.
American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (AE), which had 828 shopping-mall-based stores scattered throughout the United States and Canada in 2004, got its start in 1977 selling outdoor gear. By 1992 the retailer’s product line had been expanded to include a wide selection of casual attire, from polo shirts and khaki pants to shorts, sweaters, and skirts. For the brand’s target market—men and women 15 to 25 years old—the high quality and reasonable prices of AE’s merchandise were particularly appealing. By 2004 the chain was ranked 9th among the country’s top 10 specialty retailers. The company reported a 19.9 percent sales jump to $350 million in the three months ended May 2004 compared to the same period the previous year.
Keeping its marketing eye on its target audience of high school and college students, in 2004 AE began a new marketing campaign, ‘‘AE Jeans Will Rock You.’’ The campaign kicked off in September at 22 college football stadiums across the country. Each time the 1977 hit rock song We Will Rock You by Queen was played during football games, AE product giveaways were announced. To reach the high-school crowd, campaign television spots featuring the Queen song aired on MTV as teens prepared to go back to school. In addition to its new marketing campaign, in 2004 AE also began a redesign of its stores, replacing its original beach-housethemed decor with a trendy city-lofts theme featuring concrete floors, high ceilings with skylights, and plasma televisions running AE ad spots.
Abercrombie & Fitch (A & F) was also founded as a provider of outdoor gear. But unlike AE, which was a relative newcomer in the market, A & F opened its doors in 1892 and had counted author Ernest Hemingway and U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt among its clients. In 1988 the chain was bought by the Limited, which operated the women’s clothing chains the Limited and Victoria’s Secret. After the acquisition A & F’s product focus shifted from outdoor gear to contemporary casual clothes for upper-class suburban teens and 20-somethings.
Ten years after its purchase of A & F the
Limited phased out its ownership of the chain. As an independent public company, A & F took a new approach to its marketing strategy.
In 2002 the chain’s in-house marketing team developed a campaign that included a 280-page sales catalog titled ‘‘XXX.’’ The title clearly portrayed the catalog’s contents, which featured sexually suggestive photographs on more than half its pages. The catalog targeted high school and college students, but it raised the ire of parents and consumer watchdogs. It also pushed sales at the chain up 18 percent. By 2004, however, A & F was experiencing a sales decline, reporting an 11 percent drop in same-store sales in the quarter that ended January 2004. For the same quarter, overall sales chainwide inched up slightly (4.8 percent) to $560.4 million. Acknowledging that the chain’s marketing had occasionally crossed the line, A & F’s chief executive officer, Michael Jeffries, told Women’s Wear Daily of plans for changes to the strategy. A & F introduced a new national advertising campaign in 2004 that included ads in magazines and outdoors as well as a 60-page catalog. The promised changes to its marketing strategy were evident. While the catalog featured photos of bare-chested young men and young women in bathing suits or skimpy outfits, it lacked the nude models in suggestive poses found in previous publications. The summer 2004 catalog was also plastic-wrapped and had a tag noting that it was not for sale to anyone under 18 years old.
Since the 1980s Gap had relied on celebrities to promote its brand in several advertising campaigns. Celebrities were featured in its ‘‘Individuals of Style’’ campaign, which ran for six years beginning in 1988, and in its ‘‘For Every Generation’’ campaign, which was created for Gap in 2002 by Laird + Partners. Based on the success of its previous celebrity-centered campaigns, when Laird + Partners designed its ‘‘How Do You Wear It?’’ campaign for Gap, stars were front and center in the television spots and print ads. Signed to a three-season, six-month, $38 million contract as the campaign’s spokeswomanwas actress Sarah Jessica Parker, known for her role as fashionista Carrie Bradshaw on the hit television show Sex and the City. A 90-second television spot featuring Parker and musician Lenny Kravitz first aired during the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2004. In the spot Parker danced while Kravitz performed a mix of his songs Lady and Are You Gonna Go My Way. As Kravitz sang and played the electric guitar, Parker added to her outfit, showing the variety of ways that Gap jeans could be worn. Eventually six different versions of Parker appeared to be dancing with Kravitz. Parker was shown in Gap jeans customized with everything from velvet ribbons to millions of dollars worth of antique jewelry. During the spot Kravitz’s Gap clothes also were customized with a variety of items, including studs, grommets, and gold-braided ribbon. The campaign also included a series of 30-second spots and 15-second teaser spots, which aired on all major networks and cable channels in the United States and Canada.
Print ads began running in September in national magazines, including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and Essence. In addition to Parker, the print ads featured other stars from television, music, fashion, and sports, such as actresses Jada Pinkett Smith and Jessica Alba. Ads also broke in men’s magazines such as GQ and Details; these versions featured Kravitz as well as New England Patriot football star Tom Brady and actors Michael Vartan and Josh Duhamel.
Other marketing elements of the campaign were outdoor, direct mail, in-store, and online efforts. The online aspect included a special website, www.howdoyou. com, that allowed customers to post photos of themselves showing how they personalized their Gap clothes. Customers who logged onto the site could also vote for their favorites of the posted pictures, view the campaign’s TV spots, and get fall fashion tips.
Although the strategy of relying on celebrities to promote its brand worked for Gap in the late 1980s through the early 1990s, the idea seemed to fall flat in the first decade of the new century. The chain’s ‘‘Individuals of Style’’ campaign, which ran from 1988 through 1993 and featured a variety of celebrities, boosted sales and earnings an average of 43 percent from 1990 to 1993. The sales growth for 1993 alone was a reported 30 percent. In 2002 the chain released a campaign, ‘‘For Every Generation,’’ that also featured a long list of stars and contributed to a slight turnaround in declining sales. The celebrity spokespersons also helped establish Gap’s reputation as a cool brand. But whether it was a sign of changing consumer tastes or the increasing retail options available to shoppers, Gap’s subsequent celebritycentered campaigns, including a single television spot featuring singers Madonna and Missy Elliot, failed to resonate with customers. Wendy Liebmann, president of the New York–based marketing consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, told Advertising Age that the Gap had lost its meaning and edge. She said, ‘‘It’s the name everyone knows but aren’t real sure what it stands for anymore . . . there are other choices that mean more to consumers anyway today.’’
The 2004 ‘‘How Do You Wear It?’’ campaign also failed to accomplish its goal of driving sales, and despite her image as a fashion icon, its celebrity spokesperson, Sarah Jessica Parker, failed to enhance Gap’s former cool image. The Advertising Age report stated that, following the campaign’s introduction, the chain reported its worst sales performance since 2002. Additionally, comments that consumers posted about the advertisements on the New York–based blog Gothamist (www.gothamist.-com) were generally less than kind about both the Gap clothing featured in the spots and about its celebrity spokeswoman. One writer described the print ad in which Parker had cut her Gap jeans off at the knees and embellished them with black velvet bows as ‘‘weird.’’ Another described Parker’s appearance in the same ad as looking like ‘‘Little Bo Peep on acid.’’ Another asked the question, ‘‘Could those pants be any less flattering?’’ In March 2005, just weeks after announcing a new series of advertisements featuring Parker, the star’s threeseason contract with Gap expired, and the chain reported that it was replacing her with a new celebrity spokeswoman: up-and-coming 17-year-old British singing sensation Joss Stone.