Streaming killed Blockbuster.
iPhones killed Nokia.
What killed Gap?
I know, I know, technically they’re not dead, but boy are they diminished.
Back in the day, everyone I knew had something with Gap written on it in their wardrobe.
Not any more.
Did they just happen to be in the right place at the right time?
Or maybe it was their advertising?
Put simply; when ran good ads they were successful when they didn’t they weren’t.
I realise that’s not the kind of rigorous market analysis you may be used to receiving from a McKinsey or Bain, but it’s bloody true.
Why were the ads good?
First, because they made the unusual call to not focus their advertising dollars on their most fashionable, most unique items.
Instead, then President Millard Drexler, chose to focus on their least unique, those everyday basics like plain T-shirts, turtlenecks and chambray shirts.
The potential upside is that the market is bigger for that stuff, the down side was handed to creative head Maggie Gross a problem; how do you make Gap’s $10 white t-shirts look better than everyone else’s $10 white t-shirts?
How do you make basic special?
The first decision she made was to ditch tv and radio in favour of up market magazines and newspapers.
Where a company runs its ads can say more about it than the ads themselves.
But what do you fill those spaces with?
Maggie remembered the Blackglamma campaign.
It featured the famous, but they didn’t feel like celebrities, they felt like people with jobs, albeit high profile ones.
Also, they weren’t the kind of faces-for-hire that appeared in ads.
Maggie opted for a similar approach.
She also decided not to follow the youth culture route, instead went for older models.
The campaign broke in L.A, coinciding with various store openings.
Herb Ritts shot “people recognised for what they do, and appropriate to L.A.”, people like of photographer Matthew Rolston, actress Claire Hall and architect Bryan Murphy.
The campaign not only brought customers into stores, it brought requests for copies of the ads.
L.A. was followed by N.Y.
This time the “most New York photographer” was chosen to shoot – Annie Leibovitz.
Next stop the world.
The Gap campaign is deceptively simple.
Most low end fashion brands couldn’t credibly feature movie and rock stars.
Who’d believe Brad Pitt trawled through the racks at TK Maxx for a top?
Or that Beyonce would pop down to Zara for a frock?
No one. (In-case you weren’t sure.)
But ‘basics’ are a different matter.
Not only is it believable they’d get everyday basic items there, it makes them smart.
It’s like those Chefs that take out a small mortgage to pay for certain special ingredients, like saffron and truffles, but don’t waste money on the everyday basics, like flour.
Somehow, Gap managed to use the most expensive photographers on the planet to shoot some of the most famous, wealthiest people in the world to create a campaign that felt basic and utilitarian.
Maybe it was the black & white?
The giant logo?
Maybe because they didn’t try to tell you how ‘awesome’ the clothing was?
Or that the people featured didn’t feel like people who appeared in ads? (Joan Didion, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, etc.)
Maybe it was a combination of all of the above?
But for a moment, the campaign below made Gap basics feel like a vital ingredient in expensive and cheap wardrobes alike.
Look at them; black & white picture, big logo, a few words.
It’s not rocket surgery.
Until you try and replicate it.
As Gap will no doubt verify.